HARRISON, NJ -- It's not an ideal pairing by any means, but for some reason or another, Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper are becoming a lethal duo up top for the New York Red Bulls.
The two have combined for five goals in the Red Bulls' opening three matches and the positional understanding between the two on the field has been excellent.
Yet, there's isn't much difference between the two. Both are tall forwards who are known more for their finesse than their physical prowess. Usually, when strikers are too similar, it doesn't work well as both are trying to effectively do the same thing on the field. Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba's failure to be effective is a perfect example. Henry and Cooper are defying typical soccer logic.
The best forward tandems in the world usually combine very different strikers who could feed off of each other well. A towering physical striker who's good in the air with a nimble smaller who can penetrate defenses and create scoring opportunities, or a deep lying forward paired with a pacey striker.
One of the reasons the two Red Bulls forwards have worked together well is Cooper's willingness to defer to Henry. Forwards are considered to be the wide receivers of soccer. Like their NFL counterparts, they are usually confident and even boastful. Cooper is the opposite of that. He speaks in an emotionless tone and is a bit modest. Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe pointed out that trait after the Red Bulls' 4-1 thrashing of the Colorado Rapids.
"He's a very nice guy, probably too nice. If he would use his body a little bit more [physically], he would even score more," the coach said.
Yet, in being a "nice guy", Cooper is allowing Henry to dominate the ball and provide opportunities, two of his goals have come off assists from the Frenchman. Cooper is clearly happy to work with a player who he calls his hero and that is one of the reasons why the pair has been potent.
"You could see it in his pass to me. He put it in right in my path," Cooper said when asked about Henry's assist on his first goal in the victory over the Rapids. "He is incredible. I've said it before, he's a hero of mine."
He continued to praise Henry's ability on the field: "He's a player that has everything. He scores goals. He creates goals. He's athletic."
While Henry was more muted on the pairing, it is clear to see that the 33-year-old has a quiet confidence in the 6-foot-4 forward. For example, when starting alongside Juan Agudelo, there are times where the former Arsenal hitman is clearly frustrated by the young forward's missed opportunities. That hasn't been the case with Cooper who has finished almost every chance given to him by Henry.
"You've seen it already in the first two games," Henry said of the productive work between him and Cooper. "It's going to be like that all season."
Henry and his Red Bulls teammates showed their support for the still recovering Bolton player Fabrice Muamba by wearing shirts with his name on during warmups. The striker revealed that the idea was mutual one between himself and the team's kit man. "We both felt like it was the right thing to do," said Henry.