Greg Lalas
Monday August 3rd, 2009

First, the preamble: I hope Kenny Cooper finds great success at TSV 1860 Munich. I hope he scores goals in bunches, helps his team win many games and impresses scouts from the biggest clubs in Europe. I hope he makes the U.S. World Cup team next summer and does well in South Africa. I hope, in short, he proves my gut feeling wrong.

Cooper is one of the good guys, as they say -- always polite and courteous and quick with a smile for a kid or a comment for a journalist. Over the past few years, he's worked very hard to develop his tactical understanding and hone his finishing skills -- all while playing in unenviable conditions at FC Dallas. After joining Dallas in 2006 from Manchester United, he established himself as one of the most dangerous strikers in MLS by notching 40 goals in 87 league appearances (only Landon Donovan has more goals since '06) and added his name to the mix for the 2010 World Cup.

But all along, we've known "Coop" had his eye on a return to Europe. He had been a reserve player at Manchester United and gone out on loan to several lower-division English sides before coming back to Texas. He said all the right things about wanting to fight for Dallas, but it was obvious MLS was just a stepping stone on his way to a bigger, European league.

Last summer, when he was scoring at will for Dallas -- he finished the season with 18 goals -- the European teams came a-calling. English second-division side Cardiff City reportedly offered around $4 million, but MLS turned down the bid. Norwegian club Rosenborg was also in the running. Nothing happened in the summer transfer window, but after the season, Bundesliga club Eintracht Frankfurt put in an offer -- reportedly also around $4 million -- but the deal fell through. Rumor has it the league wanted $5 million.

Imagine the frustration. Twice, Cooper was this close to having his wish fulfilled only to see the plans crumble. So I can understand why, after those disappointments, he jumped at the chance to join 1860.

That doesn't mean 1860's the right place for the 24-year-old, though. The club is currently in the 2.Bundesliga, the German second division. Last year, it finished in 12th place, just four points above the relegation zone. It hasn't been in the top flight since '04.

The club, of course, told Cooper and his father, Kenny Sr., that it's "committed to getting back [into the top tier]," as reported by Steve Davis on his blog, We'll see. This is the typical "commitment" speech every club gives a new recruit. Eventually, reality crashes the party.

And the reality is the 2.Bundesliga is not glamorous. Sure, Cooper will make more money than he did in MLS, but he's going to have to fight and claw for every little inch, for every chance, for every goal. There are no guarantees 1860 is going to be anything more than mediocre. Yes, 1860 plays its home matches in the magnificent 69,000-seat Allianz Arena, which it half-fills on good days. But that just serves to remind all of us on the outside 1860 is not Bayern Munich, which sells out every home game in the same stadium.

That said, 1860 manager Ewald Lienen has brought in 10 new players this summer. Lienen is a manager who knows how to get the most out of his players. As boss of FC Köln, he guided the club back to the Bundesliga in 2000 after a year in the second division and later helped Borussia Mönchengladbach and Hannover 96 escape relegation when he took over each midseason. Furthermore, 1860 has a recent track record of seeing players snapped up by bigger clubs. Cooper knows this, and is undoubtedly hoping for similar results.

But here's the problem I have with this move: Sure, it might be a good stepping-stone to a bigger club, but remember, Cooper is trying to make the U.S. team for next summer's World Cup. So far this year, Cooper has earned five caps and scored two goals for Bob Bradley's side. Is the German second division going to make him a more viable option for Bradley, a bigger, better threat who can provide that dagger goal in a tight game next summer? If he scores 10 goals for 1860 this season, will he be more of a lock for the national team than if he scored 15 in MLS?

Honestly, I don't know the answer to those questions. But think about the other American striker in the 2.Bundesliga, Matt Taylor. Who? you ask. Exactly.

Taylor played in 64 games in MLS (six goals, four assists) from '04 to '07. After being released, he hooked up with TuS Koblenz in the 2.Bundesliga for the '08-09 season. He scored seven goals in 22 games last year and, this summer transferred to a bigger 2.Bundesliga club, FSV Frankfurt. But his improved success hasn't made him relevant in the national-team picture. His achievements at Koblenz just didn't rate enough to earn a call up this summer. (Compare that to Heath Pearce and Freddy Adu, who haven't played in a competitive club match in months.)

I hope Cooper tears it up at 1860 Munich. I hope he scores 10 goals before Christmas and moves to a top-flight club in January. But no American has set the precedent, and he'll have to blaze his own trail. My gut feeling tells me it's going to be a struggle.

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