PORTLAND, Ore.— When two teams play to a scoreless draw in the first leg of an Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs series, like the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City did on Sunday in the Western Conference Championship, each side can take heart in still being very much in the tie.
Of course, the same can also be said for the opposing team.
“Definitely we wanted to get a win at home,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese told reporters after the match at Providence Park. He then remarked that while he was disappointed his team did not score, the Timbers were able to keep Sporting from leaving the Rose City with a valuable road goal.
“For us, I thought the only thing missing today was the goal,” said Savarese.
Savarese's counterpart was pretty much in the same boat.
“We wish we had won,” said Kansas City coach Peter Vermes. “But to not walk out of here with that situation is acceptable at the moment based on the series that we have. Now we have to get home and get ready for the final. That’s what it is.”
Portland were pleased with the attacking intent, which while it didn't lead to any goals on the night, gave them a 6-to-1 edge in shots on target, plus another one that went off the post.
“[It’s] a good result," said Portland midfielder Sebastian Blanco. “We thought we played good. We created many chances. I think the mentality is the same because we have a chance.”
While Portland have no more home games left in the playoffs this year, as the lowest seed left in the competition, they have a potential edge, away goals, if they play to a score draw in Children's Mercy Park on Thursday in the second leg (9:30 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN2, TVAS2).
Getting the clean sheet ”was very important,” said Blanco, “[Because] we can score there and complete the game.”
Across the Providence Park hallway, the visitors felt they were not leaving Portland bereft, either. Their advantage going in will be playing at home, where they have been 11-2-5 in MLS play this season across the regular season and postseason.
“It puts us in a good position,” said Sporting defender Matt Besler. “It’s going to be a completely different game because we’re going to be at home. We’re going to be in front of our fans.”
“We got one of our two objectives,” agreed midfielder Ilie Sanchez. “We didn’t give up any goals, but we could not score. That could be a huge part for us, but I think we did a good job, and we got a pretty good result for the second leg.”
With the frenetic first leg in the books, both teams seemed eager to turn the page and immediately start preparing for Thursday's decisive match.
“If you had told us at the beginning of the season that we were going to be 90 minutes away from the cup final, at home, of course we’re going to take that,” said Sporting winger Johnny Russell. “We’ve worked hard all season. We’ve worked so hard to be in that position, to get that game, and we’ve got ourselves there. It’s going to be another game like tonight. We’ve got to give it everything. We’ll have guys step up, and if we do that then we’re confident that we’ll be able to get the result that we need.”
Savarese said he expects Thursday’s deciding match to be ”another very difficult game,” but not totally out of his team's capabilities this season.
“I don’t see it as what kind of pressure,” says Savarese. “We have to go there and try to get a win. We have to go there with the mentality that it’s one game, like it is in the regular season, and we have to go there to try and get a win.”
And after all, these occasions are why the players and coaches are in this sport in the first place.
“Everyone wants to play in these games," says Sanchez. “Their crowd was excellent tonight, and I think that raised that intensity for both teams. I don’t expect anything less at home Thursday.”