If they repeat that feat Sunday against the Puerto Rico Islanders (4 p.m. start), they’re probably headed to their third straight league final appearance.
If they don’t, beware of the dreaded penalty-kick shootout.
The Caps host the Islanders at Swangard Stadium in the second leg of a two-game, total-goal, USSF D-2 semifinal playoff after the two sides battled to a 0-0 draw Thursday in Puerto Rico.
It was a welcome result for a Vancouver side that was feeling a little beat up after a physically punishing two-game quarter-final win over Portland.
The team stressed a defend-first strategy that worked well in hot, humid conditions in Puerto Rico but expect them to push forward more in the cooler, friendlier confines of Swangard.
Whitecaps keeper Jay Nolly — who came up big again in Puerto Rico with a huge save near the end of the first half — said team defending wins championships and Vancouver had the stingiest defence in the league this year.
But he also feels the Whitecaps have found a scoring touch at home lately.
“Obviously we want to be smart and don’t give them dangerous counterattacks or anything,” Nolly said. “But we feel like we’ve been buzzing at home the last few games. We’re going to come out with a lot of energy and try to put them on their heels.”
Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson said he was pleased with his team’s offensive play in the second half against Puerto Rico but felt they should have created more scoring chances.
“We were around their box quite a bit but didn’t manage to create the chances we needed,” he said. “We will have to find a fine balance [on Sunday] between continuing to defend well but with a little bit more attacking.”
Vancouver striker Cody Arnoux had the team’s best scoring chance but fired the ball just wide of the Islanders goal late in the first half before leaving the game a few minutes later after suffering what appeared to be a pulled muscle.
The Whitecaps played a 4-4-1-1 formation against the Islanders for the third straight game, with Arnoux starting the game as a lone striker in front of withdrawn striker Martin Nash.
Kyle Porter and then Ridge Mobulu replaced Arnoux at the lone striker position and it will be interesting to see who draws into the roster Sunday if Arnoux can’t play. Speedy Canadian forward Randy Edwini-Bonsu and Costa Rican striker Jonathan McDonald are two options.
Thordarson said the Islanders didn’t surprise Vancouver Thursday with their style of play, which involves more of a ground-oriented possession game than the high-ball, physical style adopted by Portland.
“We knew exactly what to expect so we were well prepared,” he said.
The Whitecaps and Isles have faced each other three times this year and battled to three draws.
If they do the same on Sunday, they will play two 15-minute overtime periods. If the game is still tied after that, they go to penalty kicks.
SIDE KICKS: The Whitecaps/Islanders series winner will play the winner of the Montreal-Carolina semifinal playoff, with Montreal holding a 1-0 lead going into the second leg in Carolina on Sunday … The Whitecaps have confirmed their interest in hiring former Sparta Rotterdam technical director Richard Grootscholten to head their youth residency program but details still have to be worked out before he signs a contract.