VANCOUVER — Minus their captain and defensive leader, the Vancouver Whitecaps slammed the door shut on an opponent for the first time in nearly two months earlier this week.
The Major League Soccer club will be looking for a similar effort on Sunday against one of its biggest rivals.
The Whitecaps are set to host the Portland Timbers following Wednesday’s 1-0 road victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy — Vancouver’s first clean sheet since May 20 and just its fourth of the season.
“I thought we did tremendously well,” goalkeeper David Ousted told reporters following the victory at StubHub Center. ”The guys put their body on the line blocking shots and making sure to clear headers.
“Any time you get a clean sheet in a tough place like (L.A.), I think your defence has done well.”
That group was without hulking centre back Kendall Waston, who was called up as an injury replacement for Costa Rica at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, while fellow defenders Marcel de Jong and Sam Adekugbe, along with midfielders Alphonso Davies and Russell Teibert, were also away at the tournament with the Canadian squad.
Waston and Costa Rica have advanced to this weekend’s semifinals, but the other four could be available against Portland after Canada was eliminated by Jamaica in Thursday’s quarters.
The Whitecaps had given up six goals over their past two games prior to the two-week break in the MLS schedule for the Gold Cup — a 4-0 road loss to the Chicago Fire on July 1 and a 3-2 home victory over New York City FC four days later.
Keeping the ball out of the back of the net against the Galaxy was a welcome sight for Vancouver head coach Carl Robinson, who had seen his team surrender an average of 1.59 goals per game prior to Wednesday.
“Concentration in football is a major thing,” said the Welshman. ”Mentality is a huge thing as well. If you concentrate, your mental side is right going into the game. You just have to limit your mistakes, and we did that.
“Credit to every single player out there.”
Vancouver (8-7-3) enters the weekend in a three-way tie with Portland (7-8-6) and the Seattle Sounders for fourth in the Western Conference on 27 points.
But the Whitecaps have played just 18 games to the Timbers’ 21 and the Sounders’ 20, and also have two matches in hand on both first-place Sporting Kansas City (32 points) and third-place Houston Dynamo (29 points). FC Dallas, which sits second, has 31 points from its 18 games.
Portland is coming off Wednesday’s frustrating 4-1 home defeat to Real Salt Lake where strikers Victor Arboleda and Fanendo Adi were each shown straight red cards in a three-minute span in the second half, ruling them out for Sunday.
The Timbers started the season 5-2-1, but are just 2-6-5 since, with three draws and three losses over their last six MLS outings.
Portland beat Vancouver 2-1 at Providence Park as part of that early surge, however the Whitecaps have won the last regular-season three meetings at B.C. Place Stadium, including a 4-1 victory on the final day of the 2016 campaign that helped deny the Timbers a playoff spot.
Portland did upset the Whitecaps 2-0 in Vancouver in the second leg of their meeting in the second round of the 2015 post-season, a result that helped propel the Timbers to the club’s first MLS Cup title.
And then there’s the yearly battle for the Cascadia Cup, a trophy created by supporters of the Whitecaps, Timbers and Sounders for regional bragging rights. Portland and Seattle currently lead the tournament that only includes head-to-head results with four points through two matches, while Vancouver has three points from its victory over the Sounders in April.
“We know it’s a massive game,” Robinson said of Sunday’s clash. “Obviously we’ve got a lot of respect for Portland, but all games that we play in are feisty. There’s a lot of action, goals, tackles, missed tackles, and things like that. We’ll be prepared.”