Sounders’ Cooper flips sides in rivalry
By DON RUIZ
of The News Tribune
SEATTLE — When the Sounders-Timbers rivalry was introduced to Major League Soccer in 2011, forward Kenny Cooper was there, wearing Portland’s ax crest.
He will be part of the rivalry again Saturday, but this time his crest will show Seattle’s Space Needle.
“It’s one of the most exciting games of the year,” Cooper said this week after training with the Sounders. “I think a lot of people mark this one on their calendars — even people who aren’t fans of either team. It’s always an amazing atmosphere. Both teams are always well-supported, and the game should be a lot of fun.”
Cooper, a veteran of eight MLS seasons and four MLS teams, played with the Timbers during their 2011 expansion season. He contributed eight goals and two assists over 34 matches.
That turned out to be Cooper’s only season in Portland, but he recalls it fondly.
“There were a lot of new guys that first year, and we really came together and formed some close bonds,” he said. “I consider Jack Jewsbury a very good friend of mine, and he’s done really well there.
“It’s always good when you go back to an old club to see some old friends and some old faces, and to have an opportunity to show appreciation to the fans for supporting you during your time there. But once that whistle blows, it’s all business.”
After that expansion season, the Timbers traded Cooper to the New York Red Bulls, where he broke through for 18 goals, matching his career high.
The following season was back at FC Dallas, where he had started his MLS career from 2006-2009.
Cooper scored the 72nd goal of his MLS career — and his first as a Sounder — last weekend in Seattle’s 2-1 loss to the Columbus Crew.
“The result is more important than the individual goals,” he said. “As a forward I think you always want to be a part of the goals, whether you’re scoring them or helping create them. What we all look to do throughout the year is try to be a danger to other teams and help the team score.”
Cooper has appeared in all four matches for the Sounders (2-2) this season, starting three. He has a goal and an assist, and his eight shots are second on the team behind Lamar Neagle (10).
“Kenny’s done all right,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “I still think he’s been dangerous when he’s been running at people. I thought he finished his goal well. He should have maybe had another one if he gets his shot off a little quicker on the second opportunity. But he’s done what we expected, and he’s worked really, really hard.”
Cooper is the only current Sounder to have played for the Timbers (0-2-2). However, there are a couple of former Sounders on the Portland roster.
Midfielder Steve Zakuani, who played his first five seasons in Seattle, is listed as questionable due to a hamstring injury. But goalkeeper Andrew Weber is expected to start in place of Donovan Ricketts, who will serve the second of a two-game disciplinary suspension.
“It spices up the rivalry,” said Sounders assistant coach Brian Schmetzer, who has been involved with this Cascadia Cup series since his days playing with the Sounders of the North American Soccer League and his seven seasons coaching the Sounders of the United Soccer Leagues.
TUKWILA, Wash. — The reach of the Sounders-Timbers rivalry is far from limited to the Pacific Northwest, and Seattle newcomer Jalil Anibaba, acquired in an offseason trade with Chicago, was unflinching when asked if he has heard much of the heated series.
“If you haven’t,” he said, “you’re dead.”
Duties this week, particularly in context of the fiercest rivalry in MLS, are not lost on Anibaba, a defender who could play a vital role in Saturday’s game in Portland because of the red-card suspension of Djimi Traore.
Anibaba, who has been Seattle’s primary backup at center back, made his Sounders debut last week after Traore’s ejection and isn’t a player used to waiting until Week 5 to potentially get his first start. The 25-year-old was one of just three field players leaguewide to play all 3,060 minutes of the 2013 season.
So has it been difficult to wait for his turn?
“Oh, no, I don’t think so,” Anibaba said. “I’ve been training well, and I’m still confident. Guys have helped me a lot, and I’m comfortable.
“Any competitor should be ready, and I’m ready.”
Anibaba is the youngest in a Sounders center-back pool that includes Traore (34), Chad Marshall (29) and Zach Scott (33) — not counting 20-year-old rookie Damion Lowe, who is nursing a hip injury. It might seem odd, then, that coach Sigi Schmid referenced Anibaba’s experience when asked what the defender brings to the group.
“He’s had two full seasons starting in the back for Chicago, and we’re very confident in his ability,” said Schmid, who is also considering Scott in his lineup selection.
The Sounders are quite familiar with Anibaba’s ability, too, as the native of Fontana, Calif., trained with Seattle in the summer of 2010 before his senior season at North Carolina. In the subsequent MLS SuperDraft, however, he was selected No. 9 overall by the Fire, two picks before the Sounders at No. 11.
Three seasons later, Seattle got its man. And Anibaba, even while waiting for his first start, has already made an impression.
Said Traore: “It’s like he’s the future of the club.”
The Sounders have loaned David Estrada to the Atlanta Silverbacks of the second-tier North American Soccer League.
The duration of the loan is indefinite, with Seattle able to recall the forward/midfielder as desired.
“We just felt he wasn’t getting games for us,” said Schmid, “and it was important for him at this stage to see what he can do as a forward down there and see if he can bang some goals in and compete and be successful at that level. It’s going to be good for him.”
Schmid said the Sounders could also pursue loans later this season for younger players like draft pick Fabio Pereira and homegrowns Sean Okoli and Aaron Kovar.
Midfielder Brad Evans looks likely to miss his third straight MLS game with a calf injury. Schmid said the team is taking it slowly with the recovery to ensure the issue doesn’t linger and called Evans’ chances of playing at Portland “very small.”
Schmid said Clint Dempsey is expected to play against the Timbers after playing a full 90 minutes Wednesday against Mexico, but the coach didn’t specify whether that would be as a starter or off the bench.
The Timbers got good news Thursday as MLS announced an independent review panel has rescinded the red card issued to Michael Harrington last week, making the defender eligible to face Seattle.