The Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps head into the second leg of their Western Conference semifinal deadlocked at 0-0 after an entertaining, yet scoreless affair in the first leg at Providence Park on Sunday.
The Timbers nearly snuck out of their home park with a late winner, but Maximiliano Urruti's close-range effort off a feed from Diego Valeri in the 89th minute hit off the far post and stayed out. Given how friendly the posts were to Portland in the first-round win over Sporting Kansas City, perhaps the Timbers were due for a letdown from the woodwork.
Aside from that, each team had a small handful of chances, but nothing was able to separate the two Cascadia rivals, and they'll go to BC Place with all to play for with a trip to the conference final on the line next Sunday.
Here are three thoughts on the match:
No drop off from Portland after thriller
Not even three days after playing 120 grueling and intense minutes and going 11 rounds of penalties against Sporting Kansas City, the Timbers didn't show any signs of an emotional letdown or physical exhaustion. From the onset, Portland came out aggressively, carving out an early chance within the first eight minutes, and it didn't wilt down the stretch, when heavy legs could have otherwise played a part.
Portland's Thursday night penalty-kick hero Adam Kwarasey missed Sunday's match with a reported bout with the flu, but backup Jake Gleeson filled in admirably in his stead. Aside from that, the 10 field players who started Sunday also started Thursday night. Credit is due to the Timbers staff for having the team properly conditioned for the game on such short rest.
Whitecaps' wastefulness could come back to haunt
Vancouver did well to keep Portland off the board and get out of the Rose City on level terms, but you have to think the Whitecaps are kicking themselves for not walking away with even more. Octavio Rivero and Gershon Koffie each had great looks at goal from inside the Portland box in the first half, but neither could put his chance on frame.
Why does it make that much of a difference? The Timbers have won three straight games on the road and four of their last five (including at playoff teams LA and Columbus), while the Whitecaps have shown a propensity to struggle at home, dropping more than a third (six) of their league games at BC Place. Vancouver did win the only one of the three meetings this season that didn't end in a draw, winning 2-1 in March, but with the away-goals rule in play, a scored draw in the second leg suits the Timbers just fine.
The Whitecaps were tremendously organized (rookie Tim Parker and Costa Rican rock Kendall Waston were steady as ever) and came into Portland with a sound tactical plan that was executed well, but without at least an away goal to show for it, it makes getting a result at home and securing a place in the Western Conference final a more challenging task than it has to be.
Ousted perfect in goal
David Ousted may well end up winning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, and he showed why over the course of his 90 minutes in Portland.
His save on Diego Valeri's free kick was nothing short of remarkable, with the Argentine playmaker's curling ball looking earmarked for the upper right-hand corner with about 20 minutes to go in a scoreless game.
It wasn't just that play, though. He organized his back line well and was inch-perfect coming off his line to defend crosses into his area. And while his save on Valeri will dominate the highlight reels, his earlier save on Fanendo Adi, for which he simply stuck out a leg to meet Adi at the point of his one-timed effort, was just as impactful and took a high amount of expertise to execute. Where some goalkeepers might hesitate, Ousted acts confidently, and he's the ultimate safety net in the back for the Whitecaps. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the post had his back late on as well.