By Anne M. Peterson, The Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland goalkeeper Jake Gleeson, who hadn’t played in a Major League Soccer game since 2011, got the heads up Sunday morning that he was starting for the Timbers that afternoon in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinal against Vancouver.
Gleeson, who played in 20 games this season for Portland’s reserve team, the USL’s Timbers 2, started and had three saves in a 0-0 draw.
The New Zealander was playing in place of regular starter Adam Kwarasey, who had the flu.
“In the last few years I haven’t had a lot of chances to get out there and play. But today was good and it shows that hard work does pay off. Got to be patient, but it definitely gets you there in the end,” Gleeson said.
His Whitecaps counterpart, David Ousted, had six saves and deflected a dangerous free kick by Portland’s Diego Valeri in the 71st minute.
The two-legged, aggregate-goal playoff series moves to Vancouver’s BC Place next Sunday. Portland can advance in the series with a victory or a draw with goals in the second leg.
“There’s pressure all the time. There’s pressure today, as well, of keeping a clean sheet and keeping them off the scoreboard. So, I don’t think more than usual. We’ll assess that game and go home and try to win it,” said Ousted, who led the MLS in the regular season with 13 clean sheets.
Kwarasey was the hero in a knockout match Thursday night, when the Timbers won 7-6 in a penalty shootout following a 2-2 draw with Sporting Kansas City. He nailed his penalty kick before stopping Kansas City Jon Kempin’s effort in the 11th round of the shootout, the longest in MLS Cup history.
Portland also was without Diego Chara, who also missed the match against Kansas City because of an unspecified leg injury.
Coming off a marathon match and with some key starters â€” Diego Valeri and Liam Ridgewell â€” sitting on yellow cards, the Timbers appeared at the onset to be at a disadvantage to the Whitecaps, who got a knockout round bye after finishing second in the Western Conference (16-13-5).
Timbers coach Caleb Porter said he was surprised the team looked as fresh as it did.
“Even though the fatigue factor was played up, I like the fact that we’re in a rhythm,” he said.
For most of the season, Vancouver was the best team in the Western Conference before fading over the final eight weeks. Vancouver had just one win in its final six matches. If there is optimism for the Whitecaps it comes from their response in the regular-season finale, a 3-0 win over Houston that ensured them the No. 2 seed.
The Whitecaps had one of the best chances in the first half, with Octavio Rivero’s shot from atop the box in the 39th minute. Gleeson went right for the save.
The Timbers upped the pressure in the second half, but ultimately couldn’t get past Ousted. Alvas Powell’s cross cased some scrambling in front of the Whitecaps’ goal in the 54th minute. With Ousted stumbling, Kendall Watson cleared the ball out.
Valeri curled a Portland free kick around the wall but Ousted leapt to deflect it wide. Maxi Urruti’s shot in the 89th minute ricocheted off the right post.
Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson said of course he team was disappointed that the match ended without an away goal, which would have bettered the team’s odds next Sunday.
“The mindset changes now to next week’s game at BC Place,” Robinson said. “They are important, away goals, we know that. We had two great chances in the first half and we didn’t take them. So, nothing you can do. You gotta get back to work.”
Going into the match, Portland led the MLS series (both teams started play in 2011) 6-2-6. But the rivalry between the two Cascadia Cup rivals dates to 1975, when both played in the NASL.
Sunday’s match was the first time the two teams had met in the MLS season, but 11th time in the post-season overall.
The Cascadia Cup is the annual supporters’ award that goes to the points winner of the matches between the Timbers, Whitecaps and the Seattle Sounders.