MURFREESBORO ‑ Free Coop.
Brentwood fans wore T-shirts with those words, fully aware of how important Cooper Bailey is to the Bruins soccer program.
Longtime Brentwood coach Mike Purcell and Cooper’s teammates knew too.
Cooper was on the sideline for Friday’s TSSAA Class AAA state soccer championship, not in uniform, cheering for his teammates who beat Station Camp, 3-0, for the program’s second straight state title. His tournament was cut short after receiving a red card – and a two-game suspension – in the Class AAA state quarterfinal 1-0 win over nationally ranked Bearden on Tuesday.
It was a crushing blow for the team’s leading scorer, and the one who provided that goal against Bearden. Bailey had 32 goals and 12 assists and is a team leader but was relegated to being a spectator Friday and during Wednesday’s 3-2 semifinals win over Bartlett.
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He hated it. But he loved the outcome.
“I knew this team could do this with me not playing,” Cooper said. “I was really just devastated after that red card. I was really down. But my coaches and teammates just told me that they got this. They were going to win this for me.”
Tristan Tropeano scored two goals, one in each half and Brentwood got an own-goal from Station Camp late in the first half to capture the program’s sixth state title. Cooper was among the first Tropeano sought out as the final seconds ticked away and Brentwood fans rushed the field.
“Losing Cooper was a big hit and you could see that in our semifinal win,” Tropeano said. “We needed more goal scoring but we got the job done. We knew we have to have a similar attitude against Station Camp.”
Brentwood took control Friday as Tropeano’s first goal was from distance in the 13th minute. The Station Camp own-goal came off a corner kick late in the half as the Bison were trying to clear it over the goal. But the ball slipped under the crossbar into the net.
“Coop had 10 game-winning goals this year,” Purcell said. “You take a kid like that out of the lineup and it could gut a team. But we’ve got so many great players on this team who understood the task and understood what we needed to do.”
Teammates and Purcell kept Cooper’s spirits high during Wednesday’s semifinal and Thursday’s day off. Cooper replayed his red card moment over and over the past two days. His hard foul in the final minutes of Tuesday’s quarterfinal caused the red.
“I knew it was kind of stupid and I immediately regretted it,” Cooper said. “I’d been thinking about it the past two nights but friends, teammates, coaches all just kept telling me they still needed me. That was important.”
Brentwood, ranked No. 2 nationally in the United Soccer Coaches high school poll, finished the season 25-0. The Bruins have only one loss in the past two seasons and its the first undefeated season since 2008.
“We’re not here without Cooper,” Tropeano said. “No doubt. And for this team to go back-to-back, it’s just a special group and a special program.”
Reach sports writer George Robinson at ge[email protected] and on Twitter @Cville_Sports.