The salary cap is one of the greatest sustaining forces behind Major League Soccer’s success but it is also one of it’s most unforgiving mechanisms – especially in regards to domestic players who achieve success.
Kenny Cooper is a prime example. The burly American forward trailed only Chris Wondolowski and his league record tying 27 goals in the golden boot race throughout 2012. In any other professional league on any continent across any sport, that kind of achievement would be compensated.
In the world of MLS, it only means his value would eat into a team’s cap structure.
“That is the way it is unfortunately,” New York Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry noted. “Kenny was a hell of a goalscorer. As you know here with salary cap and all that, it’s the only reason he left; it wasn’t for football reasons.”
The answer may be a surprise for some – especially coming from Henry. Though the duo achieved a great amount of success last season, Henry hardly shared a pleasant existence with Cooper up top. The French superstar would, along with then coach Hans Backe, routinely lambast the big American striker for being too timid and not creating his own chances. Standing at 6’3″ and weighing over 200 lbs., Cooper was considered a gentle giant who would shy away from physicality. That would be a major sticking point for Backe and Henry, especially in corner and set piece situations. Cooper’s shoot first mentality was also a point of contention between the two.
History aside, Henry stuck to the team’s larger narrative; it’s all about the salary cap. Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh has repeatedly told the story about how reluctant he was to move Cooper. “Over my dead body” he quoted himself as saying time and time again. Head Coach Mike Petke relayed a similar tale.
In the end, each one of these powerful team voices points to the system as the culprit.
“It is annoying because you knew, whatever, I don’t know how he used to do it, but if the ball was going to go through three guys the ball would land at his feet and the ball was going to go in,” Henry said.
“If you are in any other league in the world, you keep your good players, right? But not in this league. That is why most of the time you see a lot of players traveling, getting traded. There is a rule we all have to respect and that’s the way it is right now.
“It is an American way of dealing with things; salary cap, draft, trade,” he continued. “In Europe we don’t do that. In Europe, you perform for your team – there is no trade. Here is different.
“If you want to be compared with the big leagues in Europe, some things have to change. I don’t know what but some things have to change.”
Mechanisms aside, 18 goals is 18 goals and Henry recognizes that filling those shoes won’t be an easy task.
“To replace 18 goals, we are going to all have to share that to reach that mark,” he noted. “When Luke Rodgers left, everybody was like ‘oh you are losing him.’ Then in the season, everybody forgot about Luke Rodgers.
“I am not having a go,” he clarified. “It’s just the way it is. We know he left. We know it’s going to be hard. We know we’re going to miss 18 goals. We know it’s not easy to score 18 goals and we are going to have to do without him.
“With the rules of this league, he is no longer here with us and we are going to have to try and find some other ways to score goals … He was a hell of a goal scorer for us and I wish him the very best.”