That week felt like an age to wait but Vancouver Whitecaps finally got their 2015 playoff campaign off and running at Portland Timbers on Sunday.
And thankfully the wheels didn’t fall off and the Whitecaps playoff wagon is still running well and in a good position.
Does either side actually have the advantage after Sunday’s 0-0 draw at Providence Park? Both teams will feel they have, but we’re left with a true one-off cup tie now to decide who advances to the final, and possibly another all-Cascadian affair.
We’ll have some analysis from the game later but for now, here’s our match report and full post-game reaction from both locker rooms.
That’s perhaps the best phrase to sum up the current standing of the all-Cascadian Western Conference semi-final between Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers.
There were no goals at Providence Park on Sunday but both teams had their chances. The ‘Caps could have been two up at half-time. The Timbers could have had it all square at 2-2 by full time.
Those away goals would have set Vancouver up nicely. Instead it’s goalless and all to play for next Sunday at BC Place.
Carl Robinson went with an unchanged Vancouver line-up from the team that secured their first round bye in last week’s 3-0 win over Houston. Portland served up a shock, with Thursday’s shoot-out hero, goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey, missing out through a late injury. Diego Chara also sat out for Caleb Porter’s side.
It was a frenetic opening spell, with both teams piling forward in attacks. Portland had the best of the early chances when Tim Parker failed to deal with a low cross in from the left but Lucas Melano shot weakly at David Ousted in the 7th minute, when he should have done better.
Vancouver’s best chance came eight minutes before the half, when a quick break from Gershon Koffie ended with a Kekuta Manneh cross into the box but Octavio Rivero rushed at his shot, when he had time, and blasted wildly over.
Inbetween those chances there hadn’t really been any goalmouth action in what had been a fast paced half.
The ‘Caps had another excellent opportunity to open the scoring moments later but Koffie squandered the good build up play.
It surprisingly took until the 44th minute for the first yellow card to come, but then with two in a minute, one for each side, the fear was that the floodgates were now open in that aspect.
Whatever Caleb Porter said to Portland at the half, it worked and they came out all guns blazing and with their tails up to start the second half, launching wave after wave of attacks.
The Whitecaps defence was certainly bending, but not breaking and Kendall Waston did well to scramble the ball away in the 54th minute, after Fanendo Adi had been played in but Ousted was out quick to knock the ball clear.
Manneh forced an easy save at the near post in the 71st minute, after a build up that felt like it had 100 passes.
Portland responded with Diego Valeri forcing a stunning one hand save from Ousted from a free kick, 25 yards out.
With the Timbers continuing to push on a slick pitch, the ‘Caps survived some scrambles in their box, as they struggled to get out from being penned in deep.
The game became end to end and Ousted had to get down to a low Urruti shot late on, but it was a fairly easy save for the Dane.
Urruti came within inches of grabbing a late winner for the Timbers in the last minute, when he was slipped in but could only look on in agony as he crashed his shot off the right hand post.
A close call and a lucky escape for Vancouver.
Referee Allen Chapman showed balls of steel to blow for full time after the Timbers had won a corner, but it kept the game all square. Probably a fair result and setting up what has the potential to be a truly epic battle in Vancouver next Sunday.
FINAL SCORE: Portland Timbers 0 – 0 Vancouver Whitecaps
PORTLAND: Jake Gleeson; Alvas Powell, Nat Borchers, Liam Ridgewell, Jorge Villafana; Jack Jewsbury, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri; Rodney Wallace, Lucas Melano (Dairon Asprilla 61), Fanendo Adi (Maxi Urruti 71) [Subs Not Used: Andrew Weber, Taylor Peay, Norberto Paparatto, Will Johnson, George Fochive]
VANCOUVER: David Ousted; Steven Beitashour, Tim Parker, Kendall Waston, Jordan Harvey; Matias Laba, Russell Teibert, Cristian Techera, Gershon Koffie (Mauro Rosales 63), Kekuta Manneh (Pedro Morales 77); Octavio Rivero (Darren Mattocks 88) [Subs Not Used: Paolo Tornaghi, Jordan Smith, Christian Dean, Deybi Flores]
On if he was nervous in the match and if he’s happy with the draw:
“That’s not nervous compared to Thursday night where I sat in the stands watching Portland and [Sporting] Kansas City. That was very calm. We came into the game with a game plan. We knew what we wanted to do. I think we executed it perfectly. In the first half I thought we were very, very good up until the final third. We missed our chances. I think we should have been ahead in the first half. In the second half, as expected, they’re going to change slightly. They came out and were probably the more aggressive team. Obviously we rode our luck in the last minute, but I think we deserve it.”
On if he’s disappointed in not getting a goal on the road:
“Of course. Everyone wants [a goal]. I’m sure they want a home goal as well. The mindset now changes to next week’s game at BC Place and they are important away goals, we know that, but we had two great chances in the first half and we didn’t take them. Nothing you can do. You have to get back to work.”
On if either team has an advantage heading into the next game:
“I just think it’s just one game of football. It’s come down to final ends again. We talked about final ends today in the game whether we went ahead in the first half then they [get] it at the end. It’s which players perform on the day. [These are] two good teams. I said in that in the build up to the game. I’ll rely on my players turning out and Caleb will rely on his players turning up. It should be an exciting game.”
On if his game plan will be affected if Portland scores first at BC Place:
“No. We just have to win the game. If we win the game of football at home in our backyard then we are through. If they get an away goal then they know they have the slight advantage there but we will rest up and be ready for next week as well.”
On goalkeeper David Ousted’s performance:
“He’s been brilliant. He’s been brilliant all season for me. Obviously, he’s taken over the captaincy since Pedro [Morales] has been out the team. I remember him making a great save from Diego Valeri. Super free kick and obviously he gets a bit of luck at the end. Sometimes you need luck in this game as we all know.”
On if Pedro Morales can be expected to play next Sunday:
“Certainly hope so. You see the quality he has when he comes on. Mauro Rosales as well. We’ve missed these players. You want your good players in your team. The guys who have been playing have done fantastically well for us. It’ll set up nicely, give them a week of full training and I’m sure he’ll be ready to go.”
On if midfielder Kekuta Manneh could have done better today:
“No. I think he worked his socks off for the team. With all attacking players I’m sure they’re always judged by the journalists by goals and assists but as a coach you see the outside work that they do. He put a great shift in. He had one or two chances to do better in the final third which I’m sure he’ll admit but if it doesn’t come off for you in the attacking third you have to put a shift in or you don’t play.”
On defender Kendall Waston’s performance:
“Again, I think the word is monster again. Him and Tim Parker had their hands full, we know that. [Timbers forward] Maxi [Urruti] comes on with his little movements and things like that. The back six of the team were fantastic today. As I said, you get your reward in this game if you put the work in and we certainly put a lot of work in today. We got our award in the first leg but we’re at halftime. There’s a lot to play for and it should set up nicely for next week.”
On if midfielder Gershon Koffie is a number 10 player:
“No he’s not but you change formations as managers and you try and get other players on the field because you want your players to perform. He has done a great job for me today in that role. Is it his ideal role? No and he’ll be the first to admit that but it’s not about individuals, it’s about the team and getting a result like this today.”
On his decision to put midfielder Pedro Morales in the game:
“It’s important he gets some football and gets some minutes in a competitive match under his belt. We’re thinking about playing him next week and bringing him off the bench was an option for me. Had to do it because I think Portland had the upper hand at that time and the game was starting to open up a little bit and I thought maybe we could execute our final passes. He brought calmness to our play which he does because he’s a top player.”
On Portland’s shot that hit the post:
“Sometimes it’s out of your hands. You just hope it’s not down to a mistake or a bad decision or things like that. We’ll take the post.”
On the overall match:
“It was a hard match because this is a final and nobody wants to give anything. First half I think that we had some opportunities that we could have scored but this is soccer, just like them in the second half they made some good stops. I think now everything leads us to the second match that I think it’s going to be harder.”
On if he was relieved when the shot went off the post in the 89th minute:
“For sure. Nobody wants to let their team score. All those things count and I think today we had a good performance. We want to do things correctly and Portland was at home with their crowd and I think they had a great game as well.”
On goalkeeper David Ousted’s performance:
“Awesome. I think he’s the best goalkeeper in MLS. Every game he stands there and tries to get a clean sheet and today he helped us a lot.”
On if he’s disappointed with not scoring on the road:
“Disappointing is when you play and you don’t try your best. I think today we tried our best. Octavio [Rivero] and our other forwards were trying to score. Nobody wanted to kick the ball outside. The main thing is that we have team spirit, we have faith that the team is going to compete and hopefully next game we can win at home.”
On having midfielder Pedro Morales return tonight:
“[It was] great because we know that Pedro helps us a lot. He was working hard in his recovery and now everyone I think is available. It’s going to be a great battle during the week to see who is going to be the 11 starters.”
On making his return to the field:
“I feel very happy. I have been waiting for this moment for maybe two months and not playing too much. Today I played 50 minutes and I feel OK. It’s a great result to come back home at BC Place. We have a big chance in the house now. [We] just [need to] keep the same work in the week and just prepare for the big game next week.”
On if playing today sets him up to play at least a half next Sunday:
“I don’t know. I’ll try yes. I need to train good this week and then it just depends on where you fit the team. I just need to work.”
On if he felt any pain out there:
“No. This is the reason I played. I don’t feel pain now. It’s the reason I’m very happy to come back and play. Now I’ve been working my way back for the team and just next week is a big game.”
On the key to getting a goal next week:
“Play hard. Take the ball. They have very good players and it’s a big, big game. [It] may be the last game for us or for Portland. You need to compete 100 percent. Now it’s a great opportunity to score and take a goal [at home]”
On goalkeeper David Ousted’s performance:
“[It was] very good. I think this year David’s had a good season for the team. For us, he’s a very good player. I think the best in the MLS. Just keep the same work now and wait for this game.”
On if he thought his season was over after the last injury:
“The last injury I thought maybe San Jose [would be] my last game this year but the team, the staff just gave me so much support. Now I feel OK, just keeping the same work every day and just wait for the last game now.”
On who has the advantage going into the second game:
“Maybe [us]. We need the support at BC Place. [There might be] maybe more than 25,000 people [at the stadium]. It’s very important for us. We’re very excited for this game and now we have a big chance for a win for the city, as a family for the club.”
On if one team has an advantage going into the next game:
“Hopefully we have the advantage of being home at BC Place. Hopefully we go home now and make sure that we get that goal to lure them out a little bit.”
On if there’s more pressure knowing they’ll need to score two goals if Portland gets one:
“There’s pressure all the time. There’s pressure as well of keeping a clean sheet and keeping them off the scoreboard. I don’t think more than usual. We’ll assess that game and go in and try and win it.”
On what he saw in Diego Valeri’s free kick:
“I saw it pretty clear. I saw when it was going past the wall and I’ve seen him a few times. He likes that corner and is fantastic at putting it there so I needed a little bit extra to get there.”
On how his team performed tonight:
“I thought we did well. I thought it was a professional showing of what we needed to do, be defensively sound and make sure they didn’t get that goal so we needed to chase. I thought we did well. Obviously we would have loved to get that away goal but it wasn’t to be today. Now we go back to BC Place and try and win it.”
On knowing that Portland wouldn’t show their exhaustion from a long match on Thursday:
“We knew that coming in here was going to be tough. We knew that their crowd was going to give them that little bit of extra. [Did they have] tired legs? Yes, maybe a little bit but they were going on adrenaline and their crowd .We knew it was going to be tough and I’m delighted with the result we take away from here.”
On defender Kendall Waston’s performance:
“Kendall showed what he has been showing all year, that he’s so strong in the air. He does very well defensively. With the other three guys in the back four there, they’re very solid. Kendall has been showing it all year and we need him to keep showing it in this playoff run here.”
On his team’s performance today:
“I thought their effort was outstanding. We played a game on Thursday, 120 minutes, to go through what we went through physically and emotionally and to turn around and play like we played today, put ourselves in a position to win the game. We got a couple chances, those didn’t fall, but we were outstanding defensively. Obviously we were the team that was on the ball more. I’m real proud of the guys for that. In saying that, Vancouver they showed tonight why they were the best defensive team in the league. Their goalkeeper Ousted was outstanding, [Kendall] Waston’s a beast and they are a good team. So I thought even though there wasn’t a goal, if you know the game, it was a really good game to watch. It puts us in a good spot. Obviously not as good as if we would have won 1-0, but they didn’t get the away goal. So if we score one goal, they have to score two. If we score two goals, they have to score three. It will make for a very interesting second leg. We’ve won seven games on the road and we’ve been very hot on the road recently and we’ve scored goals on the road. It puts us in a good position to go and play for the win.”
On Jake Gleeson’s performance:
“I thought he was great today. We want that out of our young players when they get the opportunity to be able to step in. We’ve had several in that position this year and they’ve all done a really good job. He didn’t have a ton to do, but what he did have to manage I think he looked very comfy.”
On if the pressure is back on Vancouver:
“It was a defensive battle. We knew it would be. Usually the first legs are tight because they always set up the next game, but you saw they went for attacking subs at the end. I think the reason is they wanted that away goal. They didn’t get it. Unfortunately we didn’t find the goal either, but now that we go on the road knowing that we are a good road team and knowing we just have to win the game. We can even draw as long as we score a goal.”
On moving Darlington Nagbe deeper in the second half:
“Second half we wanted to get more possession and I think we did that. I think it helped us control the game better. The reason was getting him on the ball, bringing him deep to help build attacks. I haven’t seen his numbers today but I bet they are pretty high in terms of his pass completions. Overall we didn’t find the goal but we certainly were the team that controlled the majority of the play. They were dangerous on the counter a couple of times, but other than set pieces and counters they didn’t have much. I thought again it was two very good defensive teams and that showed today. So I’m not surprised that I was 0-0. I actually thought it would be 1-0, either way. I thought there was a goal in there and I thought it was going to be us. You saw at the end of the game we were pushing. I looked like we would find it Maxi had the chance. A bit unfortunate, but maybe it evened things out from Thursday with the post hurting us instead of helping us this game.”
On the importance of depth and performance from players off the bench:
“Really important. Hopefully we are in the playoffs all the way to the end because we had to play the extra game yellow card suspensions could play in. So we need those guys. Rodney’s [Wallace] on one, [Diego] Valeri’s on one, Ridgy’s [Liam Ridgewell] is on one and [George] Fochive, if you get one more than you’ll miss a game. So because of that, obviously, we need guys to be ready, but also you never know with injuries. As you go on in the playoffs you need to go to your bench at times. It’s big that we can put those guys in and they perform. They’ve performed really well now two straight games. We had planned to put those guys in in the second half. I thought they did give us a spark.”
On keeping the team in a rhythm even though Chara remains out:
“With Jack [Jewsbury] staying in and being in a rhythm I really liked the fact even though the fatigue factor was played up. I liked the fact that we were in a rhythm of playing. In the playoffs, sometimes even though you don’t have a ton of rest it’s better psychologically just to keep playing. I thought our guys looked comfortable. This is our second year in the playoffs and we’ve got three wins and this is Vancouver’s third year and they are still looking for that first win in the playoffs. So I think that experience will hopefully help us.”
On how to keep the momentum and mindset going with a bit longer break between games:
“I think we need to recharge. It couldn’t come at a better time. We knew obviously that it’s a two-leg series and we need to put ourselves in a position where we can have a week off – a week to prep, a week to recharge and go into the game fresh. I was surprised how fresh we looked, to be honest with you. I didn’t think it would be a big factor but it really didn’t look like it was a factor at all in the game. I was really pleased, I can’t ask for anything more out of the guys. Like I said, we put ourselves in position now where we have a week to really look at Vancouver, look at this game, prepare and come out flying. We are going to try to score goals. We are not going to sit back. Obviously we will be smart like we were today. But we play to win and we play to score goals. We are capable of scoring goals and if we score goals, now they have to get one more than us.”
On decision to have Alvas Powell play a little bit more reined in:
“There were little things that we felt playing 120 minutes Thursday there were some things that we needed to do to kind of manage the game. One of those things was to play a little bit more conservatively with our outside backs. Part of that is Vancouver as well with [Cristian] Techera and [Kekuta] Manneh, we knew they would look to hit us on counters and we didn’t want to get into a track meet in the game. This is one of the few times where that wouldn’t benefit us because obviously we had a lot of miles on the legs. So we played with Alvas [Powell] and Jorge [Villafaña] a little bit more conservatively to help manage the counter attack with their two wingers, but also to manage their legs. The other thing we did is stayed a little bit more compact, didn’t press as much. We wanted to keep our shape and we also talked about having possession just to control the tempo and in some ways, slow the game down a little bit.”
On when he knew he was going to start:
“I got a text this morning from Adin [Brown} just saying Adam [Kwarasey] isn’t feeling the best, so just be ready. As a backup, you always have to be ready, you don’t know when you’re going to go in. Just look at [Jon] Kempin the other night. So when I was walking in, Adam gave me a call and said ‘I’m heading home. I’m not feeling well.’ He was really sick. That’s when I really, officially found out I was playing, so it was a pretty exciting morning.”
On comparing playing in the postseason with his start in Portland’s first MLS home game in 2011:
“Obviously the first home game was a few years ago now, so it’s been a few years since I’ve been back out there. Once you’ve played at that level and go back, it’s like picking up where you left off. The chanting, the sounds, the stadium and all, are very familiar to me. I’ve been here so long. So it’s just like in any other game. You just go out there, keep your head down, but obviously a great experience to be back out there.”
On hearing the reaction of the Timbers Army when he came out to warm up:
“They give you a boost for sure. It’s like playing with an extra man or 21,000 extra men. They definitely give you that extra boost you need to get out there and do what you need to do. I’m a very calm person out there, so I don’t let it get to me too much. I like to stay focused, but it’s good. I like playing in front of them.”
General thoughts on the match:
“Kind of like we thought it would be, to be honest. We knew it was going to be tight. We knew they’re a great defensive team. We knew we weren’t going to get a ton of looks, but we got enough to get a goal. I thought the one of Maxi’s was in and I already started running down the left side to celebrate with him. So unfortunate that that one didn’t go in. We set ourselves up with a good opportunity now to move on. We’ve been a team that, on the road, has been very good. So we’re confident about next weekend.”
On Jake Gleeson’s performance:
“Jake’s a guy that got a ton of games with T2 and that’s what that’s all about. Getting reps for goalkeepers and backups that keeps them fresh. We’ve seen in training the last couple months that he’s been with us that he’s an exceptional young goalkeeper. We weren’t nervous at all about him stepping in. He did a great job tonight.”
On if he was tired following the extra time and penalties against Sporting Kansas City:
“For me to say not at all would probably be a lie. There were definitely moments where you have to catch that second wind, but the reality is at this time of year, it’s the playoffs. So everything gets thrown out the window in terms of being tired. We had two days off almost where we could regroup and get our bodies back to normal. It wasn’t that much different from a midweek hard training that we’d have on Wednesday. Obviously not 120 minutes long and the emotions that were in the Kansas City game, but overall I thought we looked very fresh. Sometimes that can be at your benefit when you’re on a good run like we are with four wins. We’re just looking forward to a few days off here. Relax a little bit and then get back to work for next Sunday.”
On the importance of keeping a clean sheet with the away goals rule in play:
“Obviously it’s important when road goals come into play. We thought late in the game that we could continue to push. They were going to be OK with a tie, but I think, even with some of their substitutions, you could tell that they were still trying to push for that road goal.”
General thoughts on the match:
“We are happy with the performance but obviously not happy with the result. We deserved more, but it is what it is. We had some chances in the second half to score and we didn’t. But we’re in a good position. I think we were the better team on the field today, even if we played 120 minutes on Thursday. I’m happy with the performance. I think the team played really well.”
On keeping a clean sheet and the away goal advantage heading to Vancouver:
“It’s always very important because in this style of tournament, the clean sheet is very important. It’s good. Now we’re in a good position to score a goal there and force them to score two goals.”
On the benefit of a full week of rest ahead of the second leg:
“It’s good. It’s good because we have couple guys with some knocks, some problems. We need to rest. Tomorrow is a day off, so we will rest. It’s good. We have to watch the game to see what we need to fix and keep working.”
On Jake Gleeson’s performance:
“Amazing. I think he looked very mature. He’s a great ‘keeper and I’m very happy for him.”
On the difficulty breaking down Vancouver:
“I think because they defend with a lot of people, they put a lot of numbers behind the ball. I think we controlled the game. It was good because we were patient and we found some chances, very clear chances to score. We were a little bit unlucky. I had the free kick, Maxi’s chance and a couple more. I liked the way we played.”