Vancouver Whitecaps FC held Portland Timbers to a scoreless draw on Sunday afternoon at Providence Park in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinal.
In a battle between two of Major League Soccer’s best defensive teams, neither side managed to break through and get an all-important goal.
It wasn’t for a lack of opportunities, however.
The visiting ‘Caps got off to a bright start and came close on a few occasions in the first half, while Portland hit the post late and forced Budweiser Man of the Match David Ousted into six saves.
The series now shifts to BC Place, where Whitecaps FC will host the decisive second leg a week from today with everything to play for (secure your tickets today).
Sunday’s opener got a bit more interesting even prior to kickoff – not that it needed any more intrigue.
It was revealed that Portland Timbers goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey – who was the hero in Thursday’s Knockout Round win over Sporting Kansas City – was out with a reported illness. Backup keeper Jake Gleeson got the nod in his place. That was the lone change to Caleb Porter’s starting lineup.
Meanwhile, Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson went with the same starting XI that beat Houston Dynamo 3-0 in last weekend’s regular season finale. Pedro Morales did, however, return to the 18 for the first time since suffering a hamstring strain on October 3 and play 13 minutes as a second-half sub.
Both teams had their chances in the first half.
It was a fairly open and entertaining start with some good battles all over the pitch – as expected, Kendall Waston and Fanendo Adi enjoyed a tussle or two.
Portland controlled about 60 per cent of possession in the opening frame and threatened at times, but despite a few nervy moments in front of goal, the ‘Caps kept them at bay. Waston was a big part of that. In the 20th minute, the 6-foot-5 centre back headed away a corner before denying Darlington Nagbe with a superb sliding block at the top of the box.
The ‘Caps actually outshot Portland 8-4 in the first half.
Their three best chances came off low crosses into the box – a lively Kekuta Manneh helped create all of them. Gershon Koffie, who was once again playing in the attacking midfield position, had a pair of chances and Octavio Rivero had one as well, but the ‘Caps simply couldn’t find the back of the net.
It was a bright opening half from the visitors, but Portland started to come on after the break.
And if it wasn’t for Ousted, they could have very easily had one or two goals.
In the 54th minute, the ‘Caps keeper stopped a deflected Alvas Powell cross before Waston cleared the rebound with Valeri approaching. And then in the 72nd-minute, Ousted made a brilliant, diving stop on a Valeri free kick that was heading for the top right corner.
Portland continued to put the pressure on and had their best chance in the 89th minute, when substitute Maximiliano Urruti hit the far post from the top corner of the six-yard box.
A goal simply wasn’t in the cards on this day, which probably shouldn’t have been a surprise considering Portland and Vancouver were the co-clean sheet leaders this season with 13 a piece.
With the away goals rule in effect, the ‘Caps need a win next Sunday at BC Place to advance to the Western Conference Final. Portland could advance with a draw if they score at least one goal.
Another scoreless draw would send the match to extra time and potentially a penalty shootout.
Get your tickets for Vancouver’s first-ever MLS home playoff match today.
Budweiser Man of the Match: David Ousted
Referee: Allen Chapman