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Who TFC Were: Underappreciated Armando Cooper struggling to find a home

An energetic midfielder who perhaps doesn’t get the credit he deserves

MLS: Playoffs-Toronto FC at New York City FC Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Who do you think of when looking back at the 2017 Toronto FC squad — the team that was able to win the first ever domestic treble in Major League Soccer history?

Many of you probably think of players like Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Victor Vazquez, along with a handful of other players who had really notable seasons that year. But I bet not too many people think of Armando Cooper.

One of those players who somewhat flew under the radar, the Panamanian midfielder may have not been a standout player in the club’s treble-winning season, but he definitely had moments that drastically changed the course of TFC in the 1 12 years he spent in Toronto.

MLS: Toronto FC at FC Dallas Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Armando Cooper arrived in Toronto on loan from Panamanian club Arabe Unido in the summer of 2016, as the Toronto FC front office was trying to add some energy and creativity into a midfield that were really lacking in those realms. He arrived at the age of 28 and was able to play in multiple positions, which was really good for the team at the time as the Reds were facing some injury issues with defensive midfielders Will Johnson and Benoit Cheyrou sidelined.

Since there were so many injuries in the midfield, he quickly got playing time — this time, though, in a bit more of an offensive role as Michael Bradley was tasked with filling the defensive midfield vacancy. This gave Cooper the license to go out and test out some of his dribbling skills that would eventually define his time in Toronto.

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Armando Cooper was originally signed to be a backup, but he quickly took over the oft-injured Johnson’s role in the team, leaving the Canadian very frustrated with the coaching staff. While Johnson had traditionally played more of a defensive role with previous teams, in Toronto, they wanted him to play more so as a central midfielder, having some defensive and playmaking responsibilities. He played fine when it came to the defensive side of the game, but really struggled when it came to being creative with the ball. So while Johnson got 2 goals 6 assists in 1 871 minutes with TFC (a goal or assist every 234 minutes), Cooper got a goal and 3 assists with Toronto FC in 820 minutes of play (a goal or assist every 205 minutes). These stats may seem to show a marginal difference that favours Cooper, but believe me, when Armando was on the pitch versus Johnson, there was a marked difference in the level of energy and creativity that the team played with.

MLS: MLS CUP-Seattle Sounders vs Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Cooper went on to score his first and only goal with Toronto FC in 2016 versus the Montreal Impact at BMO Field where he scored an equalizer to level the match 1-1 on a monumental night; the Reds would go on to win the game 5-2 in extra time, to make it so that we would advance to the the Finals of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs — the first time TFC had accomplished this feat in franchise history.

With all of the positive performances from the then-28-year-old, combined with the change of tempo that he brought to Toronto FC, Cooper was signed on a permanent one year-deal with the Reds as they hoped he would bring the same fire that he brought in 2016.

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On the flip side, Johnson, seeing his position replaced by the Panamanian, decided to leave as a free agent ahead of 2017, citing the fact that he felt ‘disrespected’ by the club, as he said that other players were not replaced with new signings after getting injured. Keep in mind that this was off the back of Johnson breaking a bone in his leg after scoring basically in the final play of the game in the Canadian Championship Final versus Vancouver in 2016, to make it so that TFC could steal a late win and win the Championship.

Despite Cooper’s strong first season with the club, the TFC front office — led by Tim Bezbatchenko at the time — still wanted depth in their midfield. Benoit Cheyrou re-signed for what would be his final season with the club, and more notably, Spaniard Victor Vazquez was signed from Belgian side Club Brugge to be the final piece of the puzzle to a squad that had high hopes of accomplishing big things.

With far less injuries in the midfield, Cooper was faced with more competition to earn playing time.And while Cooper still got changes to play, he didn’t get the same quantity of chances that he may have hoped for being how many appearances he made for TFC in 2016 with the limited time left in the season.

He went onto make 23 appearances for the Reds, but only started 10, racking up 946 minutes versus the previous year where he appeared 12 times for the Reds, racking up 820 minutes. He still performed well throughout the entire season, it’s just that the squad that TFC had in 2017 was so ‘stacked’ that manager Greg Vanney would have trouble finding a place for the talented midfielder throughout the whole season.

A lot of the times, especially in the playoffs, Vanney would send him out for the final six or seven minutes of a game just to run the time out because he would try and use his dribbling skills to play ‘keep away’ with the opposing team. Speaking of the playoffs in 2017, as many of you know, Toronto would win the MLS Cup in that playoff run, ending Cooper’s career on a positive note as the Panamanian set up Vazquez’s goal in TFC’s 2-0 Finals win over Seattle.

Unfortunately for Armando, at the end of the 2017 season his option was declined — and watching the following season, it looks like Toronto FC could’ve really used some of his energy and creativity he provided in the midfield.

Where is Cooper now?

Since leaving Toronto FC, Cooper has played for four different teams in just two years.

He first moved to Chile to play for Club Universidad de Chile for half a season, before moving on to play for Romanian first division team Dinamo București where he made 11 appearances for the team. The following season, Cooper then went to play in the Israeli Premier League, signing with Maccabi Petah Tikva where he scored five goals in only 11 appearances. Despite the goals he scored, the team was relegated at the end of the season leading Cooper to move back to Panama to play for Arabe Unido — the team that he played for prior to playing for Toronto FC — where he has made 6 appearances so far, scoring one goal. The latest reports have the hard-working midfielder linked to Peruvian club Sporting Cristal.

Something to note is that Cooper, a longtime Panamanian national team player, played in multiple games in the 2018 Russia World Cup; he now has 109 appearances and eight goals for the team. I was pretty excited to see one player that I did know among many Panamanian players that I had never heard when I was watching Panama play Belgium in the Group Stage of the World Cup.

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The bottom line with Armando Cooper is that he was always an entertaining player to watch. He did have his weaknesses though, such as struggling to finish his chances and perhaps going down a bit too easy.

With that said, he would do a great job creating chances for himself. Despite failing at times with eye-catching dribble moves — especially when he went for nutmegs — when he was successful, Cooper looked like a dribbling genius. He also always had a high work-rate, running at every ball that came near him, and always trying to force the play forward whenever he had the ball.

Overall, I would sum up Cooper’s time in Toronto as being a positive but short-lived one. He filled the versatile roles that he was to fill and produced what was expected of him. He was reliable. Despite him not getting much credit for the work that he did while playing for Toronto FC, I’m grateful that he played for us.