For a guy who still tiptoes the national team fringes, a fellow yet to win an MLS scoring title, a man whose team didn't even make the MLS playoffs, Kenny Cooper certainly drums up his share of emotion and impassioned opinions from concerned onlookers.
The volume of debate is sure to rise anew in the coming days as the next round of "should he stay or will he go" unfolds. European teams are once again knocking on Cooper's door. This time, Germany's Eintracht Frankfurt is courting the hardworking and likable FC Dallas sniper.
While nothing is set, it seems increasingly likely that this season's 18-goal scorer, who finished second behind Landon Donovan in the MLS Golden Boot chase, may have bent his last net at Pizza Hut Park.
The big fellow and his family may make a trip to Germany soon for a personal look-see at the Bundesliga outfit. Bernd Hölzenbein, a once-prominent German international who played for Kenny Cooper Sr. in American indoor soccer some years ago, is now a scout for Frankfurt. He was in Colorado last week to see Cooper and speak to the family.
Hölzenbein apparently came away impressed. So now, with the winter transfer window approaching, there are essentially three things that could happen:
The most likely scenario is that MLS accepts the best winter offer -- one that could approach $4 million. That's not exactly Jozy Altidore territory ($8 million to $10 million from Villarreal, depending on incentives), but it would represent a handsome sum for MLS.
While that's not the optimum outcome from FC Dallas' perspective, it's not a totally unattractive one. The club could use a percentage of that transfer fee to help acquire a polished veteran forward. That's betting on the come line, considering they already have a productive striker in Cooper. But manager Schellas Hyndman says he is committed to whatever is best for Cooper.
The second scenario has FC Dallas and Cooper agreeing to a new contract, one substantially more generous than his current $100,000 salary. But the sides appear too far apart, with FC Dallas apparently unwilling to attach a designated player tag.
Everybody around Pizza Hut Park loves Cooper and recognizes his marketing value. But in MLS, all the love in the world doesn't necessarily translate in compensation. A source familiar with negotiations said FC Dallas' most recent offer was around $325,000 annually -- substantially less than Cooper could earn overseas.
The third and least likely scenario sees Cooper playing one more year in Dallas. His three-year agreement is up, but MLS has two option years remaining. The league could exercise those options, making Cooper the gold standard of MLS bargains. The 24-year-old striker could even decide to soldier through the last two years of his deal, which would take MLS out of the transfer calculus since he would then be available on a free move. That's a highly unlikely outcome.
So, how much of a transfer fee would MLS need to receive to let Cooper go?
Norway's Rosenborg offered $2 million last summer, with reachable incentives that could have elevated the final transfer price to $3 million. Cardiff City of the English Championship (second tier) was the next suitor, aggressively courting Cooper just before the current English season. But with the MLS playoffs in the balance, FC Dallas closed all negotiations through the end of the season.
So any offer worth considering now would need to land north of $3 million. MLS commissioner Don Garber spoke to Cooper and his family once again during last week's MLS Cup activities in Los Angeles, assuring them that he would attempt to facilitate their wishes.
Which probably means Cooper will soon depart for the land of steins and schnitzel. It just makes sense. His salary at Rosenborg or Cardiff would have come in around $800,000 annually, a figure the Bundesliga middleweight is likely to match. Obviously, the choice between "x" or "8x" is a no-brainer.
Cooper went to high school in Dallas and remains very close to his family, which still lives in the area. His younger brother plays at SMU in Dallas. His father was once a popular goalkeeper for the Dallas Tornado of the old NASL. In many ways, the Cooper family is Dallas soccer.
So he might be willing to take 80 cents on the dollar in compensation, but it hardly makes sense to take dramatically less.
Cooper has 33 goals in 75 MLS matches, which represents Best XI production. As a comparison, national team mainstay Brian Ching has 57 goals in 130 MLS appearances, roughly the same strike rate as Cooper. Taylor Twellman has 99 in 172, among the most prodigious rates ever in MLS.
But MLS sides are reluctant to open the wallet for American strikers. Just ask Twellman, a veteran of the MLS compensation and transfer wars. Whereas it might make sense for Frankfurt, Cardiff, Rosenborg or some other European side to pay Cooper big cash, MLS clubs find it harder to justifying that amount.
The "why" is a whole other conversation. For better or worse, that's just where things are in MLS. It's far more "sexy" to tab a Claudio Lopez and pay handsomely -- even if Kansas City's designated player failed to produce anything near value for his $820,000 salary in 2008.
Cooper has done everything Dallas officials asked when he returned stateside after almost three years with Manchester United's reserves. Donovan just nipped him in the MLS scoring race. He was just crowned MLS Comeback Player of the Year and named to the league's Best XI.
Cooper further enhanced his value last week by lining up next to Altidore in U.S. coach Bob Bradley's national-team starting lineup. Cooper's opener for the Americans, his second goal in three international appearances, helped validate the crescendo from fans who long to see the 6-foot-3 striker gain more traction in the national-team scene. Bradley seems more comfortable now with Cooper's penchant for freelancing on attack, even encouraging him to roam against Guatemala.
That's the other reason it makes sense for Cooper to hop the Atlantic now; Bradley seems to favor European-based players when everything else is equal. Cooper wants desperately to be more prominent in the national jersey. He loves playing for his country and particularly likes playing under Bradley, for the same reason he enjoys playing under Hyndman. Both coaches are no-nonsense disciplinarians who refuse to coddle athletes. That fits the tireless Cooper like a $2,000 suit.
MLS rejected offers from Cardiff and Rosenborg, partially because Cooper was only lukewarm on those scenarios. But a Bundesliga side is something else, a cut above the English Championship and the Norwegian Premier League, so he's more likely to push for this one.
With Donovan's move to Germany looking more and more likely, it appears that Germany will soon be rife with American goal-getters.
Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.