Timbers' Cooper adamant about keeping starting role

After regaining spot following Johnson's injury, FW not giving it up

Kenny Cooper, Timbers vs. FC Dallas, 4.17.11

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Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

PORTLAND, Ore. — When Portland Timbers forward Kenny Cooper scored last Saturday at San Jose, it ended a goal drought that lasted more than three months and started what is sure to be a debate over his future with the team.

Cooper, considered a linchpin signing for the expansion club during the offseason, lost his starting spot during the dry spell and was the subject of trade rumors. But when English forward Eddie Johnson sustained a concussion last Wednesday during warm-ups for the LA Galaxy match, Cooper received his chance at redemption.

“Kenny has played well the last two games, played well and scored,” Timbers manager John Spencer said. “That’s the unfortunate break that sometimes you get in professional sports. You see it happen a lot, someone else’s misfortune and another player jumps on top of it and starts a career and goes well.”

Spencer said Cooper played his best minutes in a Timbers jersey against the Galaxy last week, serving a touch pass leading to a Jorge Perlaza’s goal in that game. Cooper was rewarded with a goal in a 1-1 tie against San Jose when Perlaza put a cross right in front of the net that Cooper was able to tap in.

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“He’s put a lot of work in the last few games,” Spencer said. “The Galaxy game I thought were his best moments. I don’t think anybody played as well as him against the Galaxy. It’s funny how you play super well and you don’t get a goal. And you don’t play as well and you score a goal. It’s a crazy game sometimes.”

Spencer will be presented with a dilemma once Johnson returns to full fitness. The concussion injury forced the Englishman to miss practice again Tuesday and he is likely out again for Sunday’s match against the Houston Dynamo.

Johnson had played well of late, catching Spencer’s eye during two exhibition matches in July. He earned his second career start in a 2-2 tie on July 30 against Toronto and scored his first MLS goal.

“I don’t think there’s a decision to make,” Spencer said. “Eddie is out seven to 10 days. … We have to be careful with him medically, so we’ll see how it goes with the games coming up.”

In addition to Johnson’s setback, Spencer is wrestling with other absences due to injury and suspension just as his team gets set to face another stretch of three games in seven days beginning Sunday in Houston. Midfielder and captain Jack Jewsbury missed training on Tuesday with a strained hamstring and Jeremy Hall will have to sit out the Houston match due to a red-card suspension.

After watching his team fatigue in San Jose, Spencer opted to give his squad an extra day off this week with matches in Houston, Kansas City and at home to Vancouver looming over the next 10 days.

Given the absences, it has helped Spencer to be able to count on a forward of the caliber of Cooper, who scored a career-high 18 goals for FC Dallas in 2008 but has just four this year. The ex-US national team striker has continued to stay positive even when trade rumors surfaced following his benching.

“I love being with this club,” Cooper said. “I want to be out on the field wearing that green jersey from the start of the game, obviously. It was nice to start these last two games. And it’s definitely where I want to be when that game starts is out on the field.”