PORTLAND, Ore. - It's hard to say who has the advantage after the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps played out a hard fought goalless draw at Providence Park on Sunday afternoon in the first leg of their Western Conference Semifinal matchup.
Vancouver will be delighted to have prevented their Cascadian rivals travelling north next Sunday with a lead, but at the same time, their inability to grab the away goal that they so coveted may yet prove to be the defining point in this series.
For now though, the Whitecaps are delighted to be heading back to home field advantage still on level terms.
"We come into the game with a game plan, we knew what we wanted to do and I think we executed it perfectly," was Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson's take on the game. "The first half I thought we were very, very good up until the final third. We missed our gilt-edged chances."
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The chances dried up on the second half and despite the game opening up late on, the Whitecaps couldn't get the breakthrough that would have put them in pole position going into the second leg.
"They are important, away goals," Robinson admitted. "We know that. We had two great chances in the first half and we didn't take them. Nothing you can do. You got to get back to work."
After their strong first half showing, the Timbers turned up the intensity after the break and the Whitecaps defence was under intense pressure in the second half.
They survived an 89th minute scare when Maximiliano Urruti crashed a shot off the right post and goalkeeper David Ousted produced some strong saves, the best coming from a late Diego Valeri free kick.
That aside, Vancouver's backline held firm and came away with their other main objective on the night - a clean sheet.
"I thought it was a professional showing of what we needed to do, being defensively sound," Ousted told reporters after the match. "To make sure that they didn't get that goal so we needed to chase. I thought we did well. Obviously we'd have loved to get that away goal but it wasn't to be today. Now we go back to BC Place and try and win it."
Which brings us back to just which team has the advantage heading into next week's second leg.
Both teams will view the match now as a one-off cup tie. Home field advantage can usually be the key decider in such games, but Vancouver's record of 9 wins, 5 losses and 2 draws won't exactly strike fear into Portland hearts.
The pressure will be on Ousted and his defense to keep the Timbers at bay once again and he's confident that the 'Caps will get it done at BC Place next Sunday.
"There's always pressure," Ousted said. "There's pressure today in keeping a clean sheet and keep them off the scoreboard. I don't think more than usual. We'll assess that game and go on and try and win it."
Robinson isn't looking at home field advantage or the away goals rule, however. For him, the math is simple. If Vancouver get the victory next Sunday, they advance.
"I just think it's one game of football," Robinson mused. "It'll come down to fine lines again. It's which players perform on the day. I'll rely on my players turning up. Caleb will rely on his players turning up. It should be an exciting game.
"We've just got to win the game. If we win the game of football at home, in our backyard, then we're through. If they get an away goal then obviously they know they've a slight advantage there. We'll rest up. We'll be ready for next week."