TORONTO – The ending that Michael Bradley experienced in the 2016 MLS Cup wasn't in the script.
He was a man possessed throughout the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs.
That was something Toronto FC could rely on, even in the wild Eastern Conference Championship series with Montreal. Bradley would be in the middle, snuffing out any fires at one end and urging the side forward on the other.
But, that was not enough on Saturday night, as TFC lost the MLS Cup final to the Seattle Sounders at BMO Field 5-4 on penalty kicks following a scoreless draw.
Bradley did all that could be expected of him, as he shored up defensive liabilities, kept Nicolas Lodeiro from once threatening the TFC goal; heck, he even once matched Jordan Morris stride for stride down the outside just to ensure not a single chance got by him. He was superb.
When the MLS Cup MVP ballots were handed out as regulation time neared its end, one can be sure that more than a few had Bradley penciled in as the prime candidate.
But, the fairy tale ending did not come off for the US national team captain. Instead, in the penalty shootout, his kick was saved by Stefan Frei.
It was not the crucial moment, that came later when Justin Morrow hit the bar and Roman Torres netted the clinching spot kick for Seattle, but it still put a damper on what was otherwise a terrific performance.
That said, Bradley's coach and teammates rallied to praise the midfielder after the game.
“[Bradley] was fantastic for the whole game,” said Greg Vanney in his post-match remarks. “He competed hard, closed people down, dug things out, kept the ball moving. He did what he did; what he’s capable of doing, for 120 minutes for our group; gave us a great chance to win a game.”
Added defender Drew Moor: “Mikey is an unbelievable captain and person, both on and off the field. He's the main reason we were in this position today. You can't say enough good things about him.”
"I know Michael will be disappointed,” said Vanney. “At the end of the day, it’s a penalty kick. If the keeper goes the right way and you don’t quite get it there, then those things happen.”
Bradley knew what he had to do: “You want to have a clear idea of how you want to take it and try to execute as well as you can.”
But a right-footed effort was too close to Frei, who leapt to his left, corralling the ball.
“'This one is going to sting for a little while; no two ways about it,” said Bradley.
His club and country teammate, Jozy Altidore, offered some consolation.
“It’s never easy. Michael’s a guy that prides himself on working hard and being a leader. He’s a great leader. Anybody can miss a penalty. So, he will be our leader whether he scored or not. We count on him, we need him, and he’s going to be back better than ever.”