VANCOUVER, B.C. – The different dynamics of a two-leg aggregate goal playoff series made for some tension-packed closing moments of this scoreless opener.
The Sounders knew that a late, away goal Sunday against the Vancouver Whitecaps could not only help steal a match, but provide a huge leg up in a series where road scoring serves as the potential tiebreaker. They also could not afford a last-minute loss that would put enormous pressure on them should they fall behind early in next Thursday’s clash between these squads at CenturyLink Field.
Vancouver knew this dynamic was in play and pressed up hard in the closing minutes, while the determined Sounders repelled them time and again as 27,837 fans at B.C. Place Stadium howled with anticipation. Bodies flew, some shoves were exchanged and insults hurled as the first playoff match of this Cascadia rivalry ended 0-0 with all the emotion that’s to be expected.
Ultimately, the Sounders will take the road draw, though they’d have preferred to have put at least one ball in the net. Instead, they’ll enter Thursday’s second leg knowing that any early goals given up could be lethal as any draw other than a scoreless one would cost them the series.
The Sounders entered the opener already down Clint Dempsey, automatically suspended for his red card in the season finale. They’d hoped to have midfielder Victor Rodriguez back from his quad-muscle pull, but he too was a scratch.
That meant a makeshift alignment that moved Joevin Jones up on the left wing and Harry Shipp on the right. Nouhou started at left back in Jones’ spot, while Jordy Delem got a rare start in the defensive midfield.
Osvaldo Alonso and Gustav Svensson were back from injury and dressed for the game as substitutes. Svensson came on for Delem in the 64th minute, while Alonso replaced Shipp in the 74th.
The Sounders had hoped to avoid a loss, but also were keen on scoring at least one goal. Away goals will be the first tiebreaker if the aggregate score is tied after the two-game series is done.
And though the first half was fairly even, the Sounders did press the play at times looking for that initial strike. And they nearly got it, too, as Joevin Jones sent a cross to the goal mouth in the 36th minute that Shipp tried to get his foot into.
Whitecaps defender Kendall Watson arrived at the last instant to knock the ball away – and nearly put it into his own net as the ball ricocheted off the cross bar. After the first half ended scoreless, Chad Marshall got under a long Kelvin Leerdam ball to the box in the 48th minute and put a header directly on goal.
But Whitecaps keeper Stefan Marinovich, a midseason transfer from Germany, was there to make the stop.
Vancouver had its own chances to break the scoreless tie. The biggest came when Brek Shea sent a dribbler through the lip of the goal mouth in the 30th minute that Roman Torres made a saving clearance on.
Scoring on the road had been problematic for the Sounders throughout the regular season. In two prior games at B.C. Place, they’d managed to score but also left plenty of chances on the table in a 2-1 defeat and a 1-1 draw.
In contrast, the Sounders beat the Whitecaps 3-0 at home a month ago.
Knowing the dynamics of how differently they play at home versus the road – and the value of road goals – the Sounders had to be cautious and aggressive at the same time. They managed to walk that fine line throughout, enjoying the bulk of the limited opportunities while not allowing the speedy Whitecaps to counterattack with much success.
Former Sounders star Fredy Montero had scored three goals against his former club in the two games played at this stadium, but was a nonfactor for most of this one.