Professional sports is a tough racket. You have to perform week in and week out in order to stay employed, but even if you do that, you can't get hurt. You can never risk getting hurt.
Adam Kwarasey got hurt. He tore a ligament in his hand on a fluke play just after halftime in a mid-April at Providence Park against the San Jose Earthquakes, missed three months injured, and despite backstopping the Portland Timbers to MLS Cup last year, lost his job.
On Monday morning, the Timbers sold Kwarasey to Norwegian club Rosenborg. Jake Gleeson is the Timbers' new starting goalkeeper. The young New Zealander's play this season left the club no other reasonable choice.
It's an incredibly cruel fate for Kwarasey. Had he stayed healthy, there's little question that he'd still be the starter right now.
Instead, Kwarasey goes to Rosenborg — one of Norway's premier clubs, with a chance to compete for titles and possibly play in the Champions League. It's a league that Kwarasey is familiar with from his time at Strømsgodset, and it's possible that the move could also help him get back into the Ghanian national team.
Kwarasey is a top goalkeeper, and he has plenty of good years ahead of him. He certainly isn't leaving America the way he'd imagined he would be, but even though his stay here was cut short, he leaves as an MLS Cup champion and hero of the greatest game in Portland Timbers history. It was a good run.
The toughest moment of Kwarasey's stint in MLS must have been the period over the last month and a half when the veteran goalkeeper realized he wasn't going to get his job back. Jake Gleeson just didn't miss. He never yielded an inch. Never allowed for so much as a single doubt that he'd have to be the starter going forward.
This move makes sense for the Timbers. Gleeson is cheaper and younger than Kwarasey, but he's also a player that Portland has invested some six years in. He's been lined up as the team's eventual #1 since 2011.
Watching him go on to fulfill his considerable promise for another MLS club — which is exactly what he would have done had Kwarasey gone back into the starting lineup next Saturday — would have bad business and hurt immeasurably.
Gleeson has been phenomenal in Kwarasey's absence. He has a huge frame, jaw-dropping reflexes, and shot-stopping ability that is second to none in MLS. The supporting aspects of his game — namely distribution and footwork — will come along in due time.
Gleeson should the best Timbers' best MLS goalkeeper ever, but he does have big shoes to fill. Troy Perkins was good, Donovan Ricketts was great, and Adam Kwarasey etched his name into club history with a panache and coolness that will never be forgotten.
Kwarasey won MLS Save of the Year in 2015, played his best soccer down the stretch as the Timbers marched towards the final, and never once gave the impression that he was anything less than sure-handed and sure-headed in goal.
But it was that shootout against Sporting Kansas City that was Kwarasey's finest hour. His penalty, whipped by Jon Kempin with gusto, made his save on Kempin's tamer take moments later perfunctory. For that minute, Kwarasey was bigger than the biggest moment the club had ever seen.
He got Wally Pipped. Simple as that. It's Gleeson's job now, as it should be. It's his time. Sports are precarious like that. Great moments are often fleeting. But even if he wasn't on stage for long, Kwarasey certainly had his.