The Vancouver Whitecaps might just have found the confidence they need heading into their first-ever playoff series.
With Saturday's scoreless draw at Real Salt Lake, the Whitecaps earned a point on the road for the first time since July 7. They also got a taste of the style of play and hostile environment that will await them Thursday when they visit the Los Angeles Galaxy in the franchise's MLS post-season debut.
"I think it's the same style, the way they move the ball and the way we need to keep the shape to be competitive," Vancouver defender Alain Rochat said. "Now we need to rest for L.A. and give the same kind of performance.
"We've never had a good result there, so we are focused to change that. We'll try to play the perfect game and win there."
The Whitecaps had already sewn up the Western Conference's No. 4 seed, but a draw in the regular-season finale gave them 43 points for the season and moved them ahead of the Montreal Impact as the top Canadian team.
Vancouver earned points in four of its final five games in the regular season and posted its 12th shutout of the season on Saturday behind three saves from Brad Knighton.
Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie said he was encouraged by yet another solid defensive showing on the road.
"When you come on the road, that's how you need to perform — be hard to play against, be hard to beat," Rennie said. "I think we saw the hunger and the belief we're going to require [against L.A.].
"It's a good end to the regular season. Coming into it as the worst team last season, we find ourselves coming out of it much improved."
Looking for goals
But if Vancouver has visions of advancing from the knockout round of the MLS playoffs, it's going to need to find a way to score a goal. Saturday marked the 12th time the Whitecaps were shut out this season, and they have just 10 goals away from BC Place Stadium all season — tied for worst in the league with the Portland Timbers.
The Whitecaps nearly broke through in the 57th minute, but Darren Mattock's goal on a Rochat free kick was disallowed by an offside's call.
"Maybe on another day, Darren gets called onsides and we win 1-0," defender Jay DeMerit said.
Vancouver managed just one shot on goal against Real goalkeeper Kyle Reynish. What seemed like a dump-and-chase approach on offence in the first half — sending long passes deep into Salt Lake territory with minimal results — developed into more of a controlled possession style as the game wore on.
Rochat had two shots, and none of his teammates had more than one.
"There's ways to play at times, and tonight I think we showed that's a good way for us to play," DeMerit said. "Stay defensive and make we keep things scoreless and go in and try to get results of our own. LA's a perfect team to do that against."
Salt Lake (17-11-6), which is also in the playoffs, set a quirky defensive record. The club became the second team in MLS history to not allow a goal in the first 15 minutes of a match all season. The only other team to do so was the 2009 Houston Dynamo.