Kenny Cooper

Kenny Cooper

I would not miss the NASL’s 50th anniversary celebration in October for the world. For me, it will be a nostalgic celebration of a life in soccer for everyone that was involved. There are so many great soccer cities in U.S., but the Hunts have helped to make Dallas Soccer City USA with a state-of-the-art stadium and now the Hall of Fame moving to Toyota Stadium, where I think it belongs. I’m really excited about that and the reunion.

Like so many other proud NASL alumni, Kenny Cooper — who spend 10 seasons between the pipes for the Dallas Tornado — leaving England to ply his trade in the United States was a labor of love.

“Lots of people have been super involved in getting the game to this level,” Cooper said. “I go back to Lamar Hunt, a visionary, a pioneer, an ambassador. I honestly don’t think there would be pro soccer here without the likes of Lamar. Now, with the success of MLS as a terrific league I cry tears of joy. It’s everything we wanted and is growing into becoming one of the best leagues in the world.”

Cooper, a native of England and the father of the striker of the same name, spent 10 seasons in the league from 1970 to 1979. He had the NASL’s lowest goals against average in 1972 and 1977 and was named an NASL All-Star in 1972 and 1973. He recorded 52 shutouts in his career, more than any goalkeeper in the history of the NASL.

“We were pioneers, the people in MLS like [Don] Garber and [Todd] Durbin, they now have become architects at a different level,” Cooper said. “To see what has happened has been a lifetime dream. You have to go back to people like Lee Stern in Chicago, the Robbie family and Lamar, who was always good with relationships and networking, and did a job convincing people in other sports to get involved in the game. It was an incredible team effort.”

Cooper said he is looking forward to seeing people “I haven’t seen in 50 years” at the reunion in Frisco, Tex. “The sad thing is that Lamar isn’t around to see this.”

Like so many of the NASL’s international players, Cooper came to the United States not knowing what to expect, and found a new, welcoming home, a place to put down roots and raise a family.

“Moving to America was life-changing for many of us,” Cooper said. “I would not have met my wife of today, 42 years married, had four kids if not for the opportunity Lamar and Ron Newman created. How can you not love this great country. With all that’s going on around the world, it’s still the greatest. Opportunity, lifestyle, vision leadership, all those things I think are important. Ultimately, I think we came here not knowing what was going to happen.”

One of those “happenings,” in Cooper’s recollection, is undoubtedly playing a role in the Pelé game, the U.S. debut of the Brazilian great in a game against the Tornado on Randalls Island in New York.

“The fact that we, the Tornado played in that nationally televised game against the greatest player in my mind that ever lived — for him to come to America, it took the game to a whole different level. You have to remember that in the early days we weren’t sure if it all was going to survive. Ownership and people like Ted Howard, Phil Woosnam, Dick Cecil, Clive Toye, Steve Ross and others all laid the groundwork.

“Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything. For the players, we were just thankful to live in a great country.”