Vancouver Whitecaps FC were fortunate to walk away from Providence Park on Sunday afternoon with a 0-0 scoreline in the first leg of the MLS Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Portland Timbers.
Despite having a week to rest after their 3-0 trouncing of Houston Dynamo to close the regular season, the ‘Caps looked lethargic against a Timbers side coming off a tiring midweek showdown against Sporting Kansas City, which concluded in an 11-round shootout victor for Portland.
Despite critical illnesses to Timbers’ players, such as starting goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey, and tired legs from Thursday’s games, Portland managed to control the flow of the game and prove the Whitecaps’ offence to be incredibly ineffective. The Timbers’ backline held the ‘Caps to only three shots on target all game, while the front three peppered Ousted with six.
Fortunately for the Whitecaps, regular season team MVP Kendall Waston and MLS All-Star David Ousted kept the score equal for the away leg. A highlight of the game was a Save of the Year quality stop by Ousted in the 72nd-minute on a Portland free kick to save the 0-0 scoreline. Waston also proved again why he won the team MVP award, due to clutch defending and big tackles to keep the ‘Caps in the game.
Despite maintaining the same starting eleven for the game as the victory over Houston, many ‘Caps fans questioned Carl Robinson’s bench selections, selecting an injured Pedro Morales and ineffective Darren Mattocks over Canadians Kianz Froese and Sam Adekugbe, as well as passing over Robert Earnshaw, who proved again against Houston he can come off the bench and score goals quickly.
Furthermore, the ‘Caps were not as lethal against the Timbers. Octavio Rivero did not play with the skill worthy of a Designated Player spot, while Gershon Koffie proved he is not cut out for the role of an attacking midfielder. The one bright spot in VWFC’s attack was Kekuta Manneh, who played a large role in all of Vancouver’s chances.
For the Whitecaps not to suffer at home against a better-rested Timbers side on Sunday, changes will have to be made. After playing over 20 minutes in the first leg, it is hopeful that captain Pedro Morales will be able to start on the 8th. With Morales back leading the midfield, Koffie will be able to drop to his typical defensive midfielder role, or be demoted to the bench depending on the form of Russell Teibert and Matias Laba in training this week. Additionally, Rivero will need to work to find space and capitalise on the chances he is given. Finally, Robinson should make changes to his bench, such as adding players like Earnshaw, Froese, and Adekugbe.
Bringing a 0-0 score back to Vancouver will be nerve-wracking for the ‘Caps after failing to score any goals in Portland. With the addition of the highly-contentious away goals rule to the MLS Playoffs this year, the Whitecaps will need to win at home on Sunday whether in 90 minutes, 120, or a shootout. Arguably the biggest game in the Whitecaps’ MLS history kicks off at 7 PM on Sunday.