But it didn’t.This was a championship game and a professional reputation decided by a centimetre.Immediately afterward, Morrow was cornered for a sideline interview. It’s primal.You can’t remove that from this sport without also yanking out its most vibrant theme – agony in direct relation to ecstasy. Only Morrow didn’t put his on the net. Someone once asked French international soccer player Christian Karembeu if penalty kicks to decide elimination games are fair.“It is loading a bullet into the chamber of a gun and asking everyone to pull the trigger. Twelve men took penalties on Saturday. They define you unduly.Sport is mostly about pleasure, but there is also pain. He hit it square. “Fair? And it will reduce them to nothing,” he said. He makes one-thirtieth of Bradley’s salary.He played all two hours for Toronto on Saturday, but made little impression on the game.But because of the way this works – better players tend to go earlier – Morrow was next man up when the shootout entered do-or-die territory.On the long walk up from midfield, he didn’t look nervous. The team finally has an epic disaster to commemorate, rather than a long series of pointless ones.In Major League Soccer’s frozen final on Saturday, Bradley had one of the finest games of his fine career. “But what else is there?”He meant that from a game-management perspective. The ball hit the underside of the woodwork and bounced out.A Seattle player sealed the contest a minute later. At one point, the Italian was considered the best player in the world. It was a weak attempt and easily saved, but at least it was on target.“It can be a cruel game sometimes …” Bradley said afterward, and then let the thought trail off. He neither hurried nor delayed his preparation. That’s indelible and momentous. He had the dazed look of a man who’s trying to speed-process how badly he’s screwed up, and leaning hard on lose-with-dignity clichés in the interim.“Maybe I struck it a little bit too high,” Morrow said dully. It could be argued to the entire MLS season.And that unfairness is why penalty kicks are so perfect.Those 10 or so dramatic minutes are where sport is most like dreary, everyday life – capricious and random. “Like I said, gotta congratulate the other team.”Morrow had to hit an area of 192 square feet from 36 feet away – what might fairly be called the broad side of a barn – and missed. But it works on many other more important and telling levels as well. Someone will get the bullet, you know that. He’s been in and out of MLS over the past seven years. But nobody forgets the guy who missed. He stutter-stepped up to the ball – always a bad sign – and scuffed his shot. Fairness is not even an issue.”
Karembeu spat that out right after his team had won. Nobody will blame him out loud, but, quietly, to themselves? Mostly because the more memorable failure was still to come.Justin Morrow is a 29-year-old journeyman. He ran to the ball confidently. He beat the goal keeper. Few people outside those city limits will remember him in a couple of years. Bradley went second. He did not beat the crossbar. If it had been aimed at an angle one degree lower, or hit with a fraction less force, or if the temperature had been a bit warmer, it may have slipped in. It is an enduring mark of Cain.This morning, Michael Bradley and Justin Morrow share it in Toronto.Bizarrely, that represents progress for Toronto FC. They stick with you. Which is why everyone hates penalty kicks – even the winners – but no one really wants to see them go.“Penalties are awful, unfair,” said another great Frenchman, Laurent Blanc. Genuine disappointment – deep, hurtful defeat – inspires far more awe and, in its weird way, respect than any amount of joy.Enduring it publicly is what makes an athlete most like the people who watch him or her. He’s scored a total of four goals in that time. For statistical purposes, it wasn’t even a shot on goal. There is no more unfair way to lose in all of sport. On a field full of Pinocchios, he was Geppetto – pulling all the strings.After 120 goalless minutes, his evening ended in penalty-shootout ash. You know they will.That’s not fair on a bunch of levels – to the player, to his team (who were the better side all night long), to the title game. That’s what it makes it so compelling and necessary.Maxime Bossis, a defender who missed the penalty that cost France its chance at the 1982 World Cup, was shattered thereafter. He played for another decade and never again took a PK.“A football match should be decided by an action of play,” Bossis’s teammate, Michel Platini, fumed.“Not some contrived process whose end result is to mark a fine player such as Bossis, [Franco] Baresi or [Roberto] Baggio for the rest of his career.”Baggio may be the most awful example. No close follower of MLS will ever forget Morrow now.Still photos best captured how close his shot was to going in. “It’s not for the weak.”Bradley’s a big deal. Things go wrong that can be explained by the pressure of the moment, but often aren’t forgotten or forgiven. He’ll recover. Then he planted the last shot of the 1994 World Cup a good 10 feet over the bar.When you hear his name now, that’s all you remember – five terrible seconds out of 500 remarkable professional games.Baggio, a famously tranquil convert to Buddhism, would later say that it was the one thing in his life he wished he could change.It’s often difficult to recall the man who made the winning penalty in a big game, or which particular effort was turned away by the goal keeper.