Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs Spotlight: Adam Kwarasey's first-ever penalty kick shootout was a memorable one

BEAVERTON, Ore. – It's not often that a goalkeeper steps up to take a penalty kick.

But there stood the Portland Timbers' Adam Kwarasey, an unusual sight at the penalty spot with his goalkeeper's gloves and his bright orange uniform, a neutral expression masking whatever emotions were swirling through his brain.

Kwarasey, in his first season with Portland, was fresh from his first MLS regular season having posted 15 wins, a 1.09 GAA and was part of a defense that earned a tie for the most shutouts in the league (13), now found himself at the crossroads of an epic Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs Knockout Round penalty kick shootout.

Of course, Kwarasey never expected to be in the position to take the kick. His name was the last one on the list of penalty takers. There was very little chance, he thought, that he would ever have to take a penalty himself.

However, Sporting Kansas City's 10th penalty taker, Amadou Dia, buried his spot kick and suddenly the entire weight of the match rested on Kwarasey's ability from the penalty spot.

Kwarasey wasn't entirely unprepared for the moment. Despite having never participated in a penalty kick shootout in his senior professional career, Kwarasey had taken some penalty kicks in practice the day before.

“Just stay calm and be yourself,” he told himself as the referee reached for his whistle. “You'll be fine.”

The story of how Kwarasey even found himself in that position is now the stuff of Timbers legend. In a game that saw both teams fight back from deficits and included a late extratime equalizer from Timbers forward Maxi Urruti, the game had already produced a great deal of drama. The penalty kick shootout took it to another level.

After Sporting KC’s 22 year-old goalkeeper Jon Kempin stopped Alvas Powell's penalty kick, another young Sporting player, defender Saad Abdul-Salaam stepped up to the penalty spot with a chance to win the match and send his team into the next round of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs.

As Abdul-Salaam struck the ball, Kwarasey dove to his left and could only watch helplessly as the ball slid towards the opposite end of goal. But then something strange happened. The ball first hit the left goalpost and then rolled across the goal line and bounced off the other post.

Always in tune with the moment, Kwarasey realized in that fraction of a second that he wasn't yet out of danger.

“Don't hit my back,” he remembers thinking to himself as he watched the ball ricochet off the right post.

“When it was coming towards me, I tried to kind of get away and it went fast,” he recalled. “It was an unbelievable feeling to see that [ball] on the right side of the [goal] line.”

After the impossible had happened, it was beginning to be clear that destiny was on the side of the Timbers. So when it came his time to take a penalty kick, the almost supernaturally calm Kwarasey strode towards the spot with complete focus.

As soon as the referee had blown his whistle, Kwarasey ran up, struck the ball cleanly with his right foot, and sent a low, blistering shot into the left corner of goal. It all happened so quickly that Kempin didn't even have time to move; the Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper stood rooted to his line, his hands outstretched hopelessly on each side of him.

But Kwarasey's job wasn't complete. He still had to try and stop Kempin from sending the shootout into yet another round of penalty kicks.

Kwarasey jogged back to goal, never glancing up at his counterpart Kempin as he ran past him to the penalty spot.

“A lot of goalkeepers have a tendency to put it to [the left] side and I said to myself, 'This is a young goalie,'” Kwarasey reflected. “He's done well in the shootout and now it's his turn. He's going to try and go on the safe side and put some power behind it.”

The Ghanaian international guessed correctly. He quickly dove to his right and pushed Kempin's hard shot back onto the field of play. Game over.

Kwarasey admits that he's thought about the “what if” scenarios since the shootout—“It would have been heartbreaking” if he had missed his shot, he said—but he insists that none of those things ever crossed his mind in the heat of the moment.

Still, so many weeks later and now ahead of Sunday’s Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Championship first leg against FC Dallas (4:30pm PT, FOX Sports 1), the magic of that penalty kick shootout remains etched in the minds of Kwarasey and his Timbers teammates.

“It's so fresh and the adrenaline from that game is still in the body,” he said. “There are days where we still talk about it like, wow, what an experience.

“What it definitely did was give us a lot of energy [going] into the Vancouver games,” he added. “Because when you win in a special way and in a way when the ball hit the post twice, we all said to ourselves, 'We're going to win this game. There's no way we can lose this game when this happens.'”