Jen Cooper on Houston soccer, the USWNT's 2023 World Cup prospects, and the NWSL boost

Jen Cooper co-hosting the first-ever NWSL Draft broadcast with Jonathan Yardley in January 2016 in Baltimore, part of the annual United Soccer Coaches (formerly known as NSCAA) convention.

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Jen Cooper, the editor and publisher of Keeper Notes, has been involved in various areas of Houston soccer since the 1990s. She also works as a researcher and stats provider, including for Fox Sports at the 2022 World Cup, and at the 2018 Men's World Cup and 2019 Women's World Cup. Cooper has published NWSL Almanacs and serves the NWSL as information director.

SOCCER AMERICA: How did you get into the game?

JEN COOPER: It was after the 1994 World Cup that I was like, 'I wanna play ... that.' I played in the adult women's league in town for years and it just so happened that when I was president of that league, you had the 1999 Women's World Cup, the launch of the WUSA, and my alma mater, Rice University, where I was working, launching women's varsity soccer.

Rice had to add one more women's sports to remain in Division 1. Rice University has the absolute minimum number of sports — like, it wasn't even a Title IX thing. The first game was in the rain and 1,200 people still showed up. It's very Rice University — the players had put up signs around campus saying, 'There's 100% chance of rain Friday, we're wearing white, come watch us play.'

Ahead of the Houston Dynamo’s inaugural MLS game in April 2006 at Robertson Stadium, Jen Cooper instructs the ball kids.

SA: Tell us about your website, Keeper Notes, that you’ve kept running since 2002. What made you start that?

JEN COOPER: When the WUSA launched I thought, 'I could see a WUSA game here, how do I make that happen?' It took me a year, but I hosted Briana Scurry vs. Mia Hamm, their two WUSA teams, at my alma mater. That was the beginning of soccer as a career for me. I totally did it as a volunteer and using the women's league as backing, but leading up to that, I had already organically started to email people when like, 'Hey, the U.S. women are gonna play,' or, 'This player from Houston got drafted to MLS.'

I called it Keeper Notes and started building that email list. That became my religion, for lack of a better word. A few years later I got the best Christmas present ever: the San Jose team moving to Houston to become the Dynamo, and I was a little involved in the run-up to that. That's when it really went into high gear — at the biggest it was about 10,000. And it would get forwarded and I would get questions from people.

SA: And it was free?

JEN COOPER: Occasionally I would have somebody that would pay to put a little ad in there. But I wasn't really on top of that. That was one kind of an outgrowth of what I was a doing. A natural guerilla marketer person.

Houston's first professional women's soccer game took place in 2002, when Jen Cooper (right) — with the Atlanta Beat and Washington Freedom GMs Eddie Rockwell and Katy Button — hosted the WUSA teams in an exhibition game at her alma mater, Rice University. 

SA: Is it fair to say that it has the most comprehensive history of American women’s soccer available online?

JEN COOPER: I wouldn't call it comprehensive. There's a lot of stuff that I've built, like spreadsheets, but they're not all linked to the website. The website is just the tip of the iceberg. I'm not a website person and I have all of these amazing spreadsheets and I need someone to teach me how to make real databases.

But yeah, I've probably collected the most soccer stuff. I have so many old Women's World Cup programs, old Soccer America copies with women's stuff, and I've been pretty diligent about collecting stuff from the different women's leagues.

Now with my role at NWSL, I'm basically the information director, so helping all of the clubs stay on top of their milestones — especially the ones that have been around the longest where the stats aren't always in the same place. I did all the research for the draft last week. So yeah, I am what I was hoping I would be many years ago. When I was working on this stuff at night, my roommate was like, 'What's your goal?' I was like, 'I just want to be paid to do this.'

I was in Qatar for three weeks doing stats for Fox Sports on set. After the first weekend my boss comes by and goes, ' Yeah, I'm definitely going to need you for the entire time in Sydney. I was like, 'That's what I wanted for Christmas!'

The women on Fox Sports' staff at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar gathered for a team photo at the Doha desk. Jen Cooper (standing, third from the right) worked the statistics & research department. Studio talent is the front row (from left): Jenny Taft, former England Lionesses star Kelly Smith, two-time World Cup champion Carli Lloyd, two-time Olympic gold medalist Aly Wagner.

SA: In comparison to all the Women’s World Cups you’ve covered, how does this team rank in terms of preparedness for a World Cup?

JEN COOPER: So that's going to have to do a lot with the impact of Covid. So what I did was that I looked at how many games did they play following the 2015 World Cup until January 1, 2019. And then how many did they play from when Vlatko [Andonovski] took over to January 1. And the difference was 17 games — that's your Covid year.

But that being said, because of the NWSL, I wouldn't think that this team is any less prepared. We've been able to say from the beginning that it's the most competitive league in the World, because anyone can beat anyone on any given day. You can't really say that about the England Women's Super League or Spain, or Liga MX Femenil.

You've got better pay, larger rosters, longer seasons, better coaching staffs, better medical staffs, and everyone's working in concert with the national team as opposed to working against or in spite of each other.

I look at the young talent on this team. It's so hard to judge who's going to be on the team, when you think of everybody who is missing from last week's games.

Sometimes we panic because we're used to everyone on the national team having over 100 caps. We're in a new age where we're not going to see that as much. But because these players have such intense league experience under their belt, in some ways they're even more prepared.

It's also helpful what they did in July last summer. In the last five previous cycles, qualifying was in the fall. [This time] those games that everyone moaned about — losing to England and Spain and Germany — that could be the best preparation we've ever had for a Women's World Cup.

It had been 15 years since the women's team played three teams ranked that high in a row in friendlies.

For 2010 MLS All-Star Game at Reliant Stadium (now NRG Stadium) featuring Manchester United, Cooper was part of the gameday staff and supervised the event volunteers.

SA: What are you most looking forward to in the Women’s World Cup?

JEN COOPER: This is dorky, but I'm really looking forward to the fact that none of these games are doubleheaders, none of the teams other than the hosts were forced into a group because they thought it would sell more tickets. I am happy that the semifinal and final are not in the same place. France did that deliberately last time knowing that Americans would buy a week in France.

It's the traditional World Cup schedule. Thirty two teams, which is beautiful, no who's best third team. I'm really psyched that Australia and New Zealand are hosting, we've never had a men's or women's World Cup there. It's a perfect confluence.

SA: If Andonovski doesn’t reach the final, should he be fired?

JEN COOPER:  No. But I'm biased. I've seen him in coach in NWSL for seven seasons. The way players respond to him. The way he respects players and respects the game and the incredible detailed work that he's done.

When he had an interview to be FC Kansas City's coach for the inaugural NWSL season, the guy doing the hiring said Vlatko brought in two huge binders of players he had already scouted. My favorite quote about him is that, 'He created the most professional place in the least professional space.' Meaning, the very early years of NWSL when everything was on a shoestring.

Photos courtesy of Jen Cooper by Michelle Morrison, Sushi Suzuki; Fox Sports.

4 comments about "Jen Cooper on Houston soccer, the USWNT's 2023 World Cup prospects, and the NWSL boost".
  1. humble 1, February 1, 2023 at 12:05 p.m.

    Great article.  Thank you.  Very informative.  Did not know about the impressive Jen Cooper.  Thanks for bringing her talents to light.  A gift to women's soccer that keeps on giving, in this moment when the ugly is still unraveling, a lady like Jen is one to be thankful for.  Now I know a good reason why the lady player studio talent at WC 2022 was so impresive.  For me they, in many cases did better than most of their big name male counterparts, except of course Duece, who is in a class of his own.  Serious talent behind the scenes!  Keep it going!    

  2. Thom Meredith, February 1, 2023 at 12:50 p.m.

    Jen Cooper is simply the best. Nobody better. I'm on the back nine of life so she was the only choice to get all of my WoSo files, artifacts and pictures etc. 

  3. Chris Keeney, February 1, 2023 at 6:34 p.m.

    Jen, it's been awhile since we spoke while I was in Houston with Texans. Great to see how well you are doing.  Look me up on LinkedIn.  Chris Keeney

  4. Santiago 1314, February 2, 2023 at 10:04 a.m.

    "Binders of Women".!?!?!? ... Doesn't that Disqualify you from being President, much less Coach.???  ;) {Sarc} Let's see how many of you get that.???

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