MLS Playoffs
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Portland Timbers 0, Vancouver Whitecaps 0 | MLS Match Recap

PORTLAND, Ore. – Caution was the order of the day in the opener of the Western Conference Semifinal series of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs between the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps.

The two Cascadia clubs played to a scoreless draw Sunday at Providence Park and will head to the second leg next weekend in Vancouver with everything left to decide.

Portland, clearly the aggressor despite having gone through an extratime Knockout Round thriller against Sporting Kansas City on the same field Thursday, do come away with the small victory of not conceding an all-important away goal and can advance with a tie should they net a goal at BC Place.

The Timbers also escaped unscathed despite the unexpected absence of goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey, who was scratched from the lineup due to illness and replaced by Jake Gleeson. They also continue to be without injured defensive midfielder Diego Chara.

Vancouver, the No. 2 seed in the conference, also came into the match shorthanded despite the extra rest, starting the game without midfielders Pedro Morales and Mauro Rosales. They both were able to come on in the second half.

Employing a defensive front, Vancouver created 10 shots – to Portland’s 11 – through the counter.

Rodney Wallace set-up Portland’s best chance of the first half in the eighth minute with some nifty moves for a cross into Lucas Melano in front of goal. But Vancouver goalkeeper David Ousted saved his sliding attempt.

A countering Vancouver side had a couple of dangerous moments late in the first half off service from Kekuta Manneh. He first found Octavio Rivero open in the middle of the box in the 37th minute, but he skied his shot. Then two minutes later, a Manneh cross was deflected for an open Gershon Koffie shot that required a diving effort from Gleeson.

Portland controlled even more of the ball after the break, and very nearly snagged the series opener.

Ousted showed his quality in the 72nd minute, narrowly palming away a curling Diego Valeri free kick destined for goal with a lunging attempt.

Second-half substitute Maximiliano Urruti tested Ousted again in the 86th minute with a shot from the top of the box that he gobbled up easily.

Ousted had nothing to say about Portland’s final – and best – chance of the night when Urruti was played through for an open look on goal that he banged off the far goalpost.

Armchair Analyst's Take

I made it a habit in the regular season of avoiding deep dives on scoreless draws, but the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs are a different animal. We have to take a little peek.

And what did that little peek at Portland and Vancouver’s back-and-forth reveal? Tired legs, great goalkeeping, and a Vancouver team that gives themselves a chance because they always keep a low block. These are the defensive interventions (interceptions, clearances, tackles, etc) of Kendall Waston and Tim Parker, and you can see how deep and central they are:

This tells me they were ready for the “battering ram” approach favored by the Timbers for the game’s first 70 minutes, and it’s no coincidence they looked much more vulnerable once Maxi Urruti came on for Fanendo Adi. I’d expect to see more of Urruti next week at BC Place. As it is, the result leaves both teams in pretty decent position to advance. – By Matt Doyle, Senior Editor

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