The match ended in a draw. But returning to the pitch was a victory for Vancouver Whitecaps defender Christian Dean.

Dean made his first Major League Soccer start since Aug. 29, 2015, in Vancouver's 0-0 tie against the Philadelphia Union Sunday night. The 23-year-old from East Palo Alto, Calif., admitted to some nerves prior to the match.

"Before the game, I had some butterflies for sure," he said. "That's a good thing. My dad always said if you don't feel it, you don't care."

The Whitecaps took the left-footed centreback third overall in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft. In 2015, Dean made three starts in five regular season appearances.

He came to camp in 2016 with high expectations but suffered a left foot injury in March, then a right knee injury in May. He also had to deal with the death of his father.

'Kept me going' 

Dean said he was thankful for the support from the Whitecaps' coaching staff and his teammates. He also praised his mother.

"She's been there for me," he said. "I've been in dark places. Just having people to support [me] has kept me going."

Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson said Dean has shown both physical and mental toughness.

"It was a tough year," said Robinson. "I'm pleased for him.

"He came in and looked very mature. Very polished. He got stronger as the game went on. He should be proud of himself today."

Dean said there's plenty of room for improvement in his game.

"Honestly, I would probably give myself a 7.5 or eight," he said. "There are some things I can clean up on for sure.

"I thought I had a decent game."

Missing final execution 

The Whitecaps had some second-half chances but couldn't convert them into goals.

Robinson would have liked a win but also was happy the Whitecaps didn't give up a late goal, something the team was guilty of last year when Vancouver failed to make the playoffs.

"We got into good areas but we just didn't have the final execution of the pass, which was disappointing," he said.

"We didn't look at all in danger. Last year we probably would have conceded [a goal]. A lot of positives on the defensive side. I thought we were strong."

The Whitecaps' best scoring opportunity came in the 66th minute. Defender Jordan Harvey took a corner kick from midfielder Cristian Techera and fired a left-footed shot from the centre of the box.

Union goalkeeper Andre Blake was beaten but defender Keegan Rosenberry blocked the shot, bringing a moan from the crowd of 19,083 at BC Place Stadium.

In a bid to create more offence, Robinson substituted new striker Fredy Montero and recently acquired forward Brek Shea into the match in the 59th minute. In the 83rd minute Shea sent a dangerous cross into the box that a diving Blake punched away.

The Whitecaps managed to intercept several Philadelphia passes but failed to turn them into serious challenges. Vancouver looked dangerous in the 25th minute when Techera took a pass in the box but sent his shot wide of the net.

The Union's Chris Pontius had an opportunity in the 16th minute with a header but Harvey cleared the ball.

'A fair result' 

Union coach Jim Curtin said the two teams were evenly matched.

"I thought there were two very organized teams tonight that kind of cancelled each other out a little bit," he said. "The chances were few and far between. I'm happy for my group to come to a very difficult place and get a point.

"Overall it was a fair result for each team to get a point on the night."

Dean said it wasn't an easy game to play.

"It's one of those games where you have to stay focused all the time," he said. "We probably should have won the game to be honest.

"I think it's a good start for us. We know where we are at and we have to keep going."

Vancouver made five lineup changes from the roster that defeated the New York Red Bulls 2-0 Thursday night to win the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final series. Among the changes, defender Sheanon Williams made his first start with the Whitecaps.

The Whitecaps next game is Saturday in San Jose against the Earthquakes.