RENE ACOSTA was never much of a sports fan, let alone a sign-wielding one.
But during the 2010 World Cup, "soccer bit me," says Acosta, 29, proud carrier of the most infamous sign bobbing amid the Timbers Army at Portland's home matches. The placard bearing the letters "KFC" was conceived at the Cascadia Summit in March, after Timbers forward Kenny Cooper Jr. ripped home a stoppage time goal to punctuate a 2-0 victory over the Rose City's most heated rival, the Seattle Sounders.
The moment suddenly turned inspirational.
"The 'Kenny Fucking Cooper' thing just popped up organically," said Acosta, whose partner, Eric Voyles, suggested Acosta incorporate a chant that bubbled up among the hundreds of Timbers Army members that made the trip north. "He said, 'Why don't you have Cooper instead of Colonel Sanders?'"
Suddenly, the least organic fast food chain of all time was an odd player in a grassroots movement.
"I've never really been moved to make any sort of sign," Acosta said. "But I thought it'd be kind of cool for opening day to have a sign commemorating that goal and wishing Cooper many more."
But the sign hasn't worked as well as Acosta—or Cooper, for that matter— had hoped.
Once expressed with profound exultation, the "F" in KFC is now more often uttered with exasperation by fans frustrated with Cooper's eight-match scoreless streak. Indeed, Portland's biggest physical target on the pitch has become one of its biggest targets for criticism by those off it.
"Certainly, I wish I had more goals at this point. But I don't," said Cooper before the team wrapped practice and flew to his hometown of Dallas for a 4-0 loss on June 25, which extended Portland's winless slide to five matches.
Cooper managed just one shot in his homecoming, making his biggest mark on the match when Dallas' George John beat him to a ball on a corner kick and scored to put Dallas up 2-0 before half.
"I don't think [Cooper] was a threat at all," said Timbers Coach John Spencer after Saturday's defeat. "From the first minute to the last minute, I don't think there was one player who put on a green jersey tonight who was a threat to Dallas... They manhandled us."
Cooper says he's "certainly hungry" to score, and his fans undoubtedly share a similar appetite.
They'll point out Cooper's struggles are hardly for lack of effort: The former US National Team member and Manchester United reservist is often last on the pitch post-practice, and his barreling style has made him one of the most fouled players in MLS. Cooper, somewhat notorious for finding the turf during particularly physical on-field meetings, requires extra bodies be assigned to his 6'3", 210-pound frame, one that scored 40 goals in 90 matches for FC Dallas.
"I don't think going into games people are saying, 'Let's nail Kenny,'" said Cooper, who has three goals in 15 matches this season—roughly half the scoring pace he enjoyed during his first MLS stint. "You have to expect physical play in this league."
And you might also expect the team's striker and second-highest-paid player to be an unquestioned vocal leader, but that's not exactly Cooper's style: The soft-spoken 26-year-old, known by the media as one of the least quotable Timbers, is as on-message as he is meek. As I hear him utter the phrase, "My mindset is to stay positive and make sure I'm being a good professional" for the fourth time in an 11-minute interview, I nearly call him "Congressman Cooper."
But it doesn't sound like Cooper's made many stump speeches in the Timbers' locker room, deferring instead to veterans Jack Jewsbury, Eric Brunner, and Troy Perkins.
Nearly halfway through Portland's inaugural season, the most animated fans have seen Cooper was when he lost his cool after being yanked from taking a third try at a penalty kick against DC United. The Timbers lost that match, and haven't won since.
Still, Cooper will keep plugging away ("I believe goals are going to come," he says), and after hand-stitching the canvas, applying two coats of Gesso, designing and painting his creation, Acosta will continue to carry Cooper's flag high.
"I really do think he's due to open it up here," Acosta says. "I can't wait for him to shut down all these distractions and score. And even if he doesn't, I'm not going to stop bringing the sign."