When the New York Red bulls traded a first-round SuperDraft pick and some allocation money in order to acquire Kenny Cooper from the Portland Timbers this offseason, it was generally lampooned. Cooper, after all, was coming off a season in which he had scored eight goals, but needed more than 2,500 minutes to get there.
Turns out that may have been the stroke of genius -- or maybe luck -- that the Red Bulls needed to spark their offense working in a way that most expected it to a year ago.
Through five matches, the Red Bulls are Major League Soccer's top scoring team with 14 goals. That's an average of 2.8 goals per game, a likely unsustainable pace, but one that would shatter the league's goal-scoring record and give them 95 for the season.
Just how remarkable of a pace is it? Well, no team since the 2001 Miami Fusion -- ironically the last year they existed before becoming one of two teams in MLS history to be contracted -- has averaged as many as 2.0 goals per game. (That Fusion team, by the way, averaged a very impressive 2.19 goals per game, which is the highest figure of the post-shootout era.) The only team to come close to sustaining the Red Bulls' current pace over an entire season was the 1998 LA Galaxy, who hold the league's goals-scored (85) and goals-per-game (2.66) records.
Cooper is proving to be no small part of that.
The big forward already has six goals, including five in his three starts. Each one has been a little different, showcasing both some deft touch as well as the ability to hold off defenders in classic target-forward style. Basically, he's the exact player the Timbers were hoping to acquire when they signed him last year.
He's also proving to be a near perfect foil for strike partner Thierry Henry, who's the only player with more goals than Cooper. Henry already has seven goals and four assists, putting him more than halfway to his total from a year ago when he had 14 goals and four assists in about 2,200 minutes. At his current pace, Henry would score about 35 goals if he plays a similar number of minutes as he did a year ago. That would shatter Roy Lassiter's MLS record of 27 goals, which he sent in 1996.
Even more remarkable is the fact that all seven of Henry's goals and three of his assists have come in the three matches that Cooper has started alongside him. His other assist was to Cooper, naturally, meaning that all his points have come with Cooper on the field.
With all that in mind, it probably comes as little surprise that the Red Bulls have been red-hot during Cooper's three starts. As a team, they've scored 13 goals in those matches. While I don't have the complete all-time data, I'm fairly certain that's the highest three-game goal output since the 2001 Fusion scored 14 goals during a three-game stretch from June 2-16. I'm also fairly certain that the Red Bulls are the first team to score at least four goals in three straight games since D.C. United scored exactly four goals in three straight games during the 1998 season (June 3-18).
(As a side note, my research suggests the 2001 Fusion also hold the record for most goals scored in any four-game stretch. They pounded in 18 goals during one stretch.)
Admittedly, it's pretty hard to see the Red Bulls keeping up this kind of pace. They are currently turning 23 percent of their shots into goals. That would smash the MLS conversion record, which probably not surprisingly is the 1998 Galaxy team that converted 19.5 percent of their shots into goals, according to my original research. On the whole, MLS teams usually convert about 11.5 percent of their shots into goals, meaning the Red Bulls would more than double that figure at their current rate. If the Red Bulls can equal that Galaxy team's conversion rate, they'd score 81 goals. That would be the second highest goal-scoring total in MLS history.
The tremendous goal-scoring rate aside, the Red Bulls are doing a lot of things that the stat-watchers among us should really like. Among the stats that tend to have a predictive value when projecting future results, the Red Bulls are looking good almost everywhere. They've outshot opponents 61-57, completed 626 more passes and won about 54 percent of their duels. Those numbers don't necessarily translate to a huge scoring output, but they suggest the Red Bulls can keep winning.
Considering this franchise's history, that should be the biggest takeaway.