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What the hell just happened to Kenny Cooper?

In which we try to explain a situation that stretched on for much longer than it seemingly needed to.

Mike Russell/Sounder at Heart

Kenny Cooper is officially no longer a member of the Seattle Sounders, who announced the veteran forward had been waived on Thursday. While that may seem straightforward enough, this is MLS where nothing is quite so easy as it seems like it should be. But don't worry, we're here to try to make some sense of all of this.

Well, what's not so straightforward?

While it's technically accurate to say that Cooper was waived -- as he's now on waivers -- that doesn't paint an entirely accurate picture of what happened.

So what happened?

The Sounders told the league they were intending to buy out Cooper at the start of the season, the same way they bought out Blaise Nkufo (2011), O'Brian White (2012), Christian Tiffert (2013) and Shalrie Joseph (2014). That means they've agreed to pay Cooper's salary out of pocket, as opposed to from league coffers.

He doesn't count against the Sounders' salary budget then?

No. How much they have to pay out of pocket, though, is still to be determined.

What will determine it?

Cooper is passing through waivers right now. The Sounders will have to pay whatever portion of Cooper's salary is not picked up by his new team.

Shouldn't he be a free agent now?

At first that's what I assumed, but considering he's still under contract -- remember he's signed by the league, not the Sounders -- it makes some sense that there would be some mechanism to assign him to a new team, as opposed to letting him pick it. Beyond that, it's still not clear if Cooper would have qualified for free agency anyway. Depending on how you count time in the league Kenny may not meet the standard for free agency. He was sold from FC Dallas to 1860 München in middle of 2009. A player friendly version of eight seasons served means that he would qualify on that measure. A league friendly version would mean that he did not. That's probably still being negotiated.

Why are we talking about this almost a month after the season started?

As you might remember, negotiations over the Collective Bargaining ran right up until two days before the start of the season and, in fact, it's still not finalized. Not only was the salary cap a bit lower than teams had anticipated, but the rules governing situations like Cooper's were only finalized in the last couple of weeks. So to err on the side of safety, the Sounders used the rules from last year and kept Cooper out of training and games once the season started.

What's been happening over the last couple of weeks?

Apparently they were looking into various opportunities, including the possibility of trying to renegotiate a deal with Cooper. Time appears to have run out this week as the roster-compliance day came and went.

Could they have traded him during that time?

That's not entirely clear, but it's possible the league would not have allowed it.

What about that trade with the Montreal Impact that Sounder at Heart reported on?

While I can't say for sure that it didn't happen, Sounders sources insist that it was not actually a thing. The Impact never made an offer, the Sounders never accepted one and Cooper never declined to go to Montreal.

What about other teams? Surely there must have been someone interested.

Here's what Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey said: "There has not been a market for Kenny. Would I love to trade a player rather than waive him and get nothing for him? Yes. I'd prefer to trade him. But there was not a market that we were able to explore. A lot of teams were anticipating potentially a higher cap, so guys with big numbers, it's a little more challenging to move them in the short-term."

Why were the Sounders so keen on dumping Cooper anyway?

Let's be straight about this: Cooper is one of the most prolific scorers in MLS history and, by all accounts, a great teammate and a positive locker room presence. But he was clearly not a starter on this team and may not have even been one of the first attacking players off the bench. He was due to make close to $300,000 this year and that's a lot of money to spend on a player who might struggle to make your gameday 18.

Wouldn't it have made more sense to just cut him last December?

Turns out that Cooper signed a guaranteed two-year contract before the 2014 season, so it probably makes sense that the Sounders explored all options and used all the available time.

Did the Sounders try to renegotiate?

Let's turn it over to Lagerwey again: "We talked through some scenarios with Kenny. Kenny's a great guy. And Kenny worked with us and I think Kenny was interested in trying to find a way to make it work here, and ultimately we weren't able to do that. So yeah, some of the timing was us trying to work something out with Kenny. But we couldn't."

What do you think happened with negotiations?

Even if they had worked out a deal, they'd likely be in the same situation next year. That's not necessarily good for the Sounders or Cooper, who'd be a year older and coming off a third straight season of limited playing time and probably limited production. While the Sounders seemed perfectly happy to bring Cooper back, it was only at a reduced salary cap number for this year. At the same time, it's not exactly shocking that Cooper appears to be gambling on his own ability to produce if he can hook on a team where he gets minutes and improve his attractiveness in 2016.

Where does this leave the Sounders?

Lagerwey said they don't see forward as a position of need and that he's perfectly satisfied to go the rest of the season with a combination of Chad Barrett, Victor Mansaray and Darwin Jones backing up Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. They've also got a bit more wiggle room when it comes to potentially adding another player.

Where does this leave Cooper?

Hopefully someone will pick him up and have quite a bargain on their hands. There's every reason to think that if given the opportunity, he can still put up solid numbers. He's one of the most genuine guys in the league and I know I'll be rooting for him.

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