SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- A stalemate left both the Vancouver Whitecaps and the San Jose Earthquakes on the outside looking in on the Western Conference playoff race.
Neither the Whitecaps nor the Earthquakes could find the back of the net in a scoreless draw that kept both teams tied on points in seventh place, and five points out of the final playoff spot.
"It was a hard fought match and exciting game," said Vancouver coach Martin Rennie. "Both teams were fully committed to getting the win and putting everything into it. It was like a playoff game."
The Whitecaps (10-10-8) out-possessed the Earthquakes (10-11-8) on the night, but the forward duo of Kenny Miller and Camilo Sanvezzo were held without a goal for the fifth straight game.
"It was a fair result," said Miller. "We came here looking to get three points, but we didn't get the win, so the result is disappointing."
Vancouver had hoped to make a move up the table with a win against struggling San Jose, but they instead needed to ward off 22 shots by the home side. An injury to defender Brad Rusin midway through the first half forced Rennie to bring in Jay DeMerit on defence, but the change did not disrupt the solid display put on by the Whitecaps.
"It was a good battle," said DeMerit. "We knew coming in it wouldn't be easy and we would need to stick together. To come away with a point in a hard place to play and to keep a clean sheet was a step in the right direction for us."
With six games remaining in their season and the last playoff spot currently held by the Portland Timbers, any result against San Jose was going to be valuable.
"It's important that we play like that now through the end of the season," said Rennie, "and if we do that we are in with a great chance to finish where we want to finish."
With only one win in their last eight matches, against the Earthquakes back on Aug. 10, the Whitecaps were desperate to start off strong in San Jose.
In the 16th minute Young-Pyo Lee, a constant threat down the right side of the field early in the match, cut a cross toward the far post that an overlapping Jordan Harvey narrowly missed. It would be the last good scoring chance for the Whitecaps of the first half.
The Earthquakes pinned Vancouver back in its own end of the better part of a quarter hour, but the visitors persevered at every turn. A corner kick by San Jose in the 19th minute was headed on target by Alan Gordon, forcing a smart save from goalkeeper David Ousted whose rebound was clumsily blasted over the crossbar by Clarence Goodson.
The constant attack by the Earthquakes took its toll on the Whitecaps defence as Rusin, making his first start since collecting a sprained ankle at Portland on August 3, exited the match in the 31st minute. DeMerit, himself just back after a long recovery from an Achilles' tendon injury suffered on opening day, stepped in for Rusin.
A strong individual effort from Miller in the 45th minute nearly made up for a timid first half by Vancouver. Taking the ball away from Victor Bernardez along the left sideline, Miller drove the endline before unleashing a low shot that goalkeeper Jon Busch was able to get a touch on. The rebound bounced back to Miller, but his awkward follow-up volley flew wide of the target.
The halftime whistle from referee Jair Marrufo came a minute later, and the Whitecaps retreated to the locker-room fortunate to have the game still scoreless. Despite an advantage in possession of 57 per cent, Vancouver was outshot 10-6 by San Jose in the first half.
The Whitecaps, with two shots on goal in the opening half, nearly made their third a charm in the 58th minute off a corner-kick opportunity. After Camilo's delivery pinged through the area, Harvey pounced on a loose ball and fired it on target, but Cordell Cato made a big stop in front of his goalkeeper to deny the Vancouver defender his fifth goal of the season.
Vancouver was on the defensive for much of the second half as San Jose tried again and again to find a weakness in the Whitecaps defence.
As the match drifted into four minutes of stoppage time, Vancouver had two close opportunities to steal all three points from the hosts.
In the 91st minute, second-half substitute Darren Mattocks created a clear shot from the top of the area, but he sent it wide. Jun Marques Davidson followed suit a minute later, as the midfielder collected a pass from Miller and sent a low shot wide of the far post.
San Jose threw everything they had forward in the dying moments of the match, but the resilient Whitecaps, with every man behind the ball on defence, preserved the scoreless draw.
With the result, Vancouver stayed level with San Jose on 38 points, but the visitors have a game in hand on the Earthquakes. The Whitecaps next travel to Montreal to face the playoff-bound Impact next Saturday.