On just three days rest, the Portland Timbers kept the clean sheet against the Vancouver Whitecaps today in the first leg of the two teams' home and away series in the MLS Cup Playoffs. With the Timbers unable to break through the Whitecaps' league leading defense as well, the match was a cagey and tactical affair, missing the fireworks and hard feelings of Thursday's win over Sporting Kansas City.
Through the first half the Timbers looked to hold the ball and dominate the possession, squeezing the Whitecaps back in their end and seeking to find a crack in the league's strongest defense. Despite holding 60.5% percent of the possession, cracks to exploit were few and far between for the Timbers.
The Timbers had one close chance the early going came as, in the 8th minute, the team worked the ball out wide to Rodney Wallace on the left flank. Sending a low, curling cross into the box, Wallace found the run of Lucas Melano as he cut through the Whitecaps back line and slid to get a foot on the ball. Melano connected, but could only steer the ball toward Vancouver keeper David Ousted, who saved handily.
The second half was more of the same as the Timbers pressed their advantage in possession, wearing the Whitecaps down and gradually finding some of the chances that had eluded them in the first half.
Although the Timbers were penetrating more and more often into the Vancouver box from the run of play, the next close call came in the 72nd minute when Diego Valeri was taken down for a free kick twenty-five yards from goal. Standing over the ball, Valeri cleared all of his targets out to the far post, leaving only the wall and Ousted between him and goal. Firing a hard, curling free kick that looked destined for the upper corner of the net, it looked like Valeri was set to score the opening goal of the evening, only for Ousted to make a leaping save across the face of goal to deny him.
The best chance of the night, however, was the final one: a Maximiliano Urruti shot in the 89th minute that rang off the woodwork, denying the Timbers the lead going into the second leg in Vancouver. Unlike Valeri's free kick, this one did come from the run of play as Dairon Asprilla, Wallace, and Valeri worked the ball quickly through the center of the pitch and then Valeri slipped a neat through ball in for Urruti.
Getting in behind the Vancouver back line, Urruit found himself with time to place his shot, but a tight angle with which to work. Before the Whitecaps defense could collapse on him, the Timbers' savior on Thursday side-footed a shot at the far post, only to see it squarely hit the woodwork and bounce back through the box, just out of reach of all the Timbers on hand for a potential rebound.
The match would end shortly thereafter with only a minimal amount of strictly enforced stoppage time on offer.
The Timbers head to Vancouver for the second leg on Sunday.