(Reuters) - It was not "pretty' but the New York Red Bulls got the job done with a 1-0 victory in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semi-final series against D.C. United on Sunday. Midfielder Dax McCarty delivered a valuable away goal in the 72nd minute, set up by a free kick from Sacha Kljestan for the top-seeded Red Bulls.
In the Western Conference, the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps played a drab scoreless draw in a game of few chances.
The Red Bulls defeated D.C. United in last year’s conference semi-final and went on the attack early in the rematch. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid made eight saves to keep the visitors at bay as New York dominated possession. United struggled to create chances and did not record a shot on goal.
"It wasn’t always a pretty game," Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said in a pitch-side interview.
"We’ve got an important lead but we’ve got to go home and be ready for another battle."
The match featured some physical moments, including an agricultural tackle by New York defender Ronald Zubar that upended United midfielder Markus Halsti in the 68th minute.
Zubar received a yellow card, but United players thought he should have seen red.
In Portland, the home fans had little to cheer about but coach Caleb Porter was not too despondent at the result.
"We had a couple of chances in the end to win the game. They didn’t have very many," he said.
The second legs of the Conference semi-finals will be played next Sunday.
(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Andrew Both)