Red Bull New York and FC Dallas are ensconced in their battles for position in the Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively, but the focus leading up to their meeting at Red Bull Arena on Sunday has been placed on one man.
Kenny Cooper, who was reluctantly traded from New York to Dallas in February, will make his return to RBA, though the Red Bulls hope he does not hit the form that saw him net 18 goals for the club last season.
Cooper, who previously enjoyed a stint in Dallas from 2006-09, hasn't been anywhere near that level of production since rejoining the club, scoring just three goals so far this term.
But that does not mean that the Red Bulls will write off a player they know to be quite prolific when given the chance.
"Kenny is one of the best goal-scorers that I've ever played with in my career," midfielder Dax McCarty told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. "He's a guy that when given a chance, he'll probably bury it more likely than not. He hasn't had the season that he's wanted to have ... but with that being said, he's going to have a little extra motivation for this game, playing his old team, having something to prove, coming back to Red Bull Arena.
"It's going to be a big game for him and you have to be wary of him. No other way to put it."
While New York will be wary of Cooper's return, the club will be hopeful of having Tim Cahill return to the fold after missing the club's 4-1 demolition of the Houston Dynamo on Sept. 8 through injury. The Australian international made it to the bench for New York's 2-0 defeat of Toronto FC last time out, but head coach Mike Petke had no intentions of using him in that affair.
"He seems to be doing pretty well," Petke told the club's official website. "You saw him on the bench, obviously, this past Saturday. We didn't want to use him unless we absolutely had to.
"Without making predictions, it's looking good. It's looking good that this is going to be a big week for him and we could possibly see him back in action."
That is not good news for a Dallas side that is looking to climb into a playoff position. The club enters the weekend in sixth place in the West on 40 points, three points shy of the Portland Timbers ahead of their Friday-night contest against the Colorado Rapids.
Dallas did itself no favors in its most recent contest. The club took the lead against the Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, but ultimately surrendered all three points behind two second-half goals from the home side.
Head coach Shellas Hyndman remained upbeat after the loss, giving credit to his side's depth, which has helped Dallas net 14 goals in the last six games after being held scoreless in the five preceding matches.
"A big part of it is injuries. Every team has them," Hyndman said after the match. "I think this is probably one of the strongest bench we've had all year. I think a big part of it is the depth and the guys are really focusing on what we need to do. Again, I can't give our guys enough credit for going into a difficult environment, playing a good team, and taking it down to the last kick of the ball."