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Whitecaps leave Portland with goalless draw

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The Blue and White did not lose. But they also did not score an away goal. Was this a good result or was it just not bad? The all nil draw in Portland sets the stage for an epic return leg next week at BC Place.

Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Whitecaps opened their participation in the 2015 MLS Playoffs at Providence Park on Sunday afternoon with a goalless draw against the Portland Timbers. The result leaves everything in the balance with the affair to be decided at BC Place next Sunday.

The Whitecaps presented the same lineup that beat the Houston Dynamo at home last weekend. Most prominently, Carl Robinson sent Gershon Koffie to play in the #10 role in front of Matías Laba and Russell Teibert. The Portland Timbers were without starting goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey due to reported illness that rendered him unable to suit up on the day.

The game started with both teams open and committing players to attack. The Vancouver Whitecaps had an arguably perfect road first half. The Laba-Teibert-Koffie triangle in the middle of the park was effective at minimizing the impact of the Timbers' key players, Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri.

The Blue and White were able to manufacture quality chances that should have seen the Whitecaps go up on the score sheet. Most notably, Octavio Rivero had an excellent opportunity but his left footed shot went wide off Jake Gleeson's net. Kekuta Manneh and Gershon Koffie also had good looks at goal but both teams went to the locker room at 0-0. Once again, the Whitecaps missed players like Nicolás Mezquida, Pedro Morales and Mauro Rosales as the Blue and White's chances were the fruit of industry and tactical discipline as opposed to creativity and individual sparkling moments.

The Timbers were coming off playing 120 minutes on Thursday so the complement was supposed to when that exertion started to take a toll on Caleb Porter's disciples. However, nothing was further from the truth as the second half saw Portland increase the tempo of the game. Nagbe and Valeri started peeling off the middle to be more involved by coming from the flanks. The tactical shift started to pay dividends as the midfielders began to connect and create more chances for the Timbers.

The Whitecaps' tactical deployment started to bend but it didn't break. Panicky and chaotic defending inside their own box had supporters holding their collective breaths as they saw Ousted, Waston and Laba diving, blocking and sliding in order to maintain the clean sheet.

Carl Robinson sent veterans Mauro Rosales and Pedro Morales to the pitch in an attempt to get the ball away from the Timbers and maintain possession. However, the momentum was on the Timbers' side and, while the substitutions accomplished what they were supposed to at times, they did little to create meaningful chances to score the valuable away goal.

The game sets the stage for what will be a crackling return leg at BC Place next Sunday. It will be a game that will see the Whitecaps playing for all the marbles, as a win is the only result that will book their ticket to the West Conference Final.