The Portland Timbers had less than 72 hours to recover from Thursday's epic 120-minute, penalty kick victory over Sporting Kansas City in the preliminary round of the 2015 Anschutz Cup. If they were feeling the effects on Sunday afternoon, it certainly didn't show. The Vancouver Whitecaps started the match without the services of Captain Pedro Morales, former designated player Mauro Rosales, and perennial starter, Pa Modou Kah, although the first two would see action after they replaced Kekuta Manneh and Gershon Koffie, respectively.
The match was officially a sell-out, with an announced capacity attendance of 21,144, although there was a large swath of empty seats sprinkled throughout the stadium.
The Timbers Army unveiled a Bob and Doug McKenzie-inspired banner in honour of regular goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey, but the New Zealander was left out after he developed flu-like symptoms. In his stead, Portland manager Caleb Porter turned to Jake Gleeson, who hadn't featured in a Major League match since 2011.
"In the last few years I haven't had a lot of chances to get out there and play. But today was good and it shows that hard work does pay off. Got to be patient, but it definitely gets you there in the end," Gleeson said.
At the other end, there was David Ousted, who led the Major League in clean sheets with 13. "There's pressure all the time. There's pressure today, as well, of keeping a clean sheet and keeping them off the scoreboard. So, I don't think more than usual. We'll assess that game and go home and try to win it," added Ousted.
The Timbers may held the bulk of the possession, but as the first half wore on, Vancouver got their chances. First, Octavio Rivero had a brilliant opportunity from the edge of the penalty spot, and then Gershon Koffie pounced on a Portland deflection. But the match remained deadlocked at nil apiece.
The Timbers Army called for a penalty five minutes before half time, but referee Allen Chapman was not having it. Portland's Rodney Wallace pushed Vancouver's Steven Beitashour down, and then joined him as both players had a piece of the other. With both players having committed a foul, Chapman allowed the play to continue. And he was right to do so.
The rain started to pour just before half time, and continued for most of the second half. Neither side dealt with it particularly well, but Portland did manage to see most of the ball. But it was always going to be that way. Because of Vancouver's injuries, Gershon Koffie, Russell Teibert, and Matías Laba sat in front of the back four.
Things changed in the 63rd minute when Mauro Rosale, who is still recovering from adductor strain, replaced Koffie. Pedro Morales, who had suffered a hamstring injury, joined him in the 77th minute after El Capitán came on for Kekuta Manneh. Not surprisingly, Vancouver was at their most dangerous with those two creative forces on the pitch.
Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted made a great diving save to preserve the clean sheet when Diego Valeri sent a gorgeous free kick towards the upper right hand corner of the net in the 72nd minute.
"I saw it pretty clear," said Ousted. "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.
"I thought their effort was outstanding," said Portland Timbers manager Caleb Porter. "To play a game on Thursday 120 minutes, to go through what we went through physically and emotionally, to turn around and play like we did today... I'm really proud of the guys.
But the elusive away goal never came. Nor did a home goal. The match finished as it began, with everything yet to play for in Vancouver. Portland will head into that match with the narrowest of advantages, thanks to the away goal rule. Should Portland manage a score draw, they will advance to the Anschutz Cup Semi-Final with FC Dallas, or Seattle Sounders FC. Vancouver needs to win. If the score line remains 0-0 after ninety minutes, an extra 30 minutes will be played in two 15-minute halves, and if it's still tied after that, it will go to penalties.
"It puts us in a good spot," Porter added. "Obviously, not as good as if we would have won 1-0, but they didn't get the away goal. 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.
Interestingly, Vancouver remains the only Western Conference side that Portland has not beaten this year. Vancouver won 1-0 in Portland at this year's Rose City Invitational, at home by a score of 2-1, and drew away three times, 0-0, 1-1, and now 0-0.
"The mindset changes now to next week's game at BC Place," Vancouver Whitecaps Manager Carl Robinson said. "They are important, away goals, we know that. We had two great chances in the first half and we didn't take them. So, nothing you can do. You gotta get back to work.
"Everybody in this club is excited and motivated and hungry," said Portland defender Nat Borchers. "These are the big games that count. You could tell that we were up for it.
"It was a defensive battle," added Porter. "It was two very good defensive teams and that showed today.
After the match, Robinson was philosophical. "With all attacking players, I'm sure they're judged by the journalists on goals and assists.
He went on to say, "as a coach, you see the outside work that they do. (Manneh) put a great shift in. He had one or two chances to maybe 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've got to put a shift in, otherwise you don't play.
When healthy, Vancouver is formidable indeed. They avoided the preliminary round, thanks to a third place finish, and they will get another week to nurse those nagging injuries. When they take to the pitch at BC Place on November 8th, they will do so with a near full strength line up, and be cheered on by a 27,000-strong crowd.
A win, any win, will see them advance to a mouth-watering Semi-Final tie with either FC Dallas, or Seattle Sounders FC.
Our all. Our honour.
Note: Postproduction techniques were used to add Remembrance Poppies to some images.