After excelling in goal for the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2019, Maxime Crepeau suffered a set back with a season-ending hand injury in 2020. As he gets set to return in 2021, here’s what he had to say during his year-end media availability, with the ‘Caps surely set to receive a big boost in goal with the return of their 2019 MVP.
It was far from an ideal second season for him.
Heading into 2020, it was hoped that 2019 Vancouver Whitecaps MVP, goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, could build off of a strong first season in a ‘Caps shirt, one where he was one of the best goalkeepers in all of MLS.
Instead, it was a season filled with interruptions and setbacks, as the pandemic and a thumb injury meant that he only played 3.5 games, a far cry from the 28 games (all competitions) that he played the year before.
But still only 26, it’s the sort of setback that can push a goalkeeper forward, provided that he sticks with his rehab and commits himself to keep on getting better.
At a position where players tend to peak a little later, Crepeau is still yet to reach his prime, so for the Whitecaps, who signed Crepeau through 2022 last year, that’s good news, with the Canadian goalkeeper set to take back the reigns in the ‘Caps goal next year.
Having been through the grind of 2020, in which he’s dealt with the pandemic, been with the ‘Caps down to Orlando for MLS is Back, where he suffered his injury, before sticking with the team throughout their ‘US adventure’ where they played their final 12 games in the US, he’s ready for whatever 2021 throws at him.
“Yes. It’s a journey. It’s a journey,” Crepeau told reporters at the ‘Caps media day on November 12th. “ I remember on the field when my thumb broke, that the referee came to me maybe five seconds after the hit that he said: ‘Are you alright?’. I still remember I said: ‘Yeah, no problem, give me a minute.’ And after five seconds I knew I was not okay. And I told them to get Thomas (Hasal) ready. Then obviously (had to) fly back to Vancouver, surgery, six weeks of not moving my hand and then getting fit once again, trying to beat the pain when you get back with the gloves on, try to get those mental barriers out when you start catching the ball.”
“After that, there was Portland, the book that we can write on the Portland journey. When I went back to training with the guys on the field, it felt really good to finally beat a little bit of the barriers mentally of putting more load on the wrist, putting more load on the thumb. And now here we’re in Vancouver, the season’s over, like we know. But now, it’s about thinking for me about next year and making sure and to be back with absolutely no pain and to be 100% fit and good to go.”
And while Crepeau’s absence has created a very interesting conundrum in the ‘Caps goal, given the strong emergence of youngster Thomas Hasal in relief for him, as well as Evan Bush’s solid cameo for the injured Hasal to end the year, his commitment to the team cannot be denied.
Despite having every reason to want to stay at home in these unique and dangerous times, Crepeau stuck with the team at every step of the way, electing to bond with his teammates, several of them new ones in 2020, knowing how important that will be for him and the team when he returns in 2021.
Considering how much the ‘Caps have credited these wild and unpredictable travels to their growth and bonding as a team, that Crepeau was there for every step of the way is positive, especially as he gets set to take the reigns back in 2021.
He wasn’t sure if he was going to have a chance to even stick around the team, but when he was presented with the option, it was a no-brainer, and he’s hoping that being a part of that process can pay off in the long-term.
“Yep, first pocket when we went to Portland, I remember it was still up in the air, if I was going or not, then one morning, I was in the cafeteria and (Head Coach) Marc (Dos Santos) and (Sporting Director) Axel (Schuster) were there and (I asked) ‘Alright, so what’s the plan’. And they just told me: ‘Do you want to come?’ and I said: ‘Yes’,” Crepeau said. “That’s the best thing for everyone, at the end of the day is the best thing for me, personally, to get my training, my rehab done and then it’s s good for me and the group I think, that I’m around the guys and get that banter going when it’s time to, and when it’s time to be serious, being serious.”
“Overall, (just) being a united team, and unified group, and that’s what it is at the end of the day, it would have been easy for me to say ‘nah, I’m not going to go. I’m comfortable here in Vancouver, I think my season is over anyways’, but I’m not about that and it wasn’t about that at the time either.”
But even though he is happy that he got to participate in the experience, this season still has to feel like a wash for him.
He was one of the top goalkeepers in MLS in 2019, finishing 5th in MLS with 114 saves, which considering that he faced the 8th-most shots in the league with 159, was a pretty good record.
And they weren’t just any shots, however, but quality attempts, as well, with the 43.51 Expected Goals (xG) that he faced the 7th-highest among goalkeepers.
Despite that, he had the 5th-best Adjusted Save Percentage in MLS, as his play was the difference between the ‘Caps being a historically bad defensive team and a below-average one, as they eventually ended up being.
Given that the ‘Caps were once again one of the worst teams in terms of the xG that they gave up in 2020, Crepeau would’ve been a busy man once again this year, likely giving him more of a chance to prove himself once more this year.
With some suggesting that his play in 2019 was good enough to make him a potential starter for the Canadian Men’s National Team, missing out on another chance to audition for roles such as that one, as well as being in the conversation of the top 5 goalkeepers in MLS right now, has to hurt.
But seeing how unusual 2020 was from a competition standpoint, while also considering that the Canadian National Team hasn’t played in nearly a year, he does have a chance to jump back into those conversations without losing too much ground next year.
Given what Sporting Director Axel Schuster said during his media day availability, it sounds like Crepeau will be the starter next year, with Hasal likely to go out on loan, leaving Crepeau to pair with his former goalkeeping partner from a few years back, Bush.
“I can still say that we have a clear plan, and we will not go with the same group into next season, that’s one of the things we are now discussing with the players and the agents,” Schuster said of his goalkeeping situation. “And there is another thing that is very clear for us, if we end up in a situation that Thomas is not our number one, and I want to keep the door open, that’s not my decision, but if Thomas would not be our number one, he has to play somewhere, he showed his talent and nothing is more important than to get a lot of minutes. And we have to find a solution that he gets minutes.”
So with Crepeau likely to be back in the saddle for the ‘Caps next year, expected big things from the Canadian.
Seen as one of the pillars of this young team, it was forgotten at times how good he truly was in 2019, and while that is a credit to the play of Hasal and Bush this year, you still have to feel that his return will help the team out massively.
He loves being in Vancouver, he blends well with this group and he’s a competitor, which is why it’ll be exciting to see him don the ‘Caps kit once again next year.
As he said during his availability, he’s progressing in his rehab every day, and there’s no doubt in his mind that he’ll be at 100% next season.
For the ‘Caps, that’s good news, as they look to take a step forward and back into the playoffs in 2020.
It was a rough year for everyone, so having dealt with the extreme up and downs of a season like this one, 2021 is hoped to be one where everyone, Crepeau included, sees more ups than downs this time around.
“Mentally, up and down, that’s for sure. I got to be honest with it,” Crepeau said to describe his 2020 season. “Up and down because it’s a major injury, it’s not something minor, even right now I want to train every single day, and I want to be back for 2021 healthy, which I know I will, but right now I know I still feel my hand when I play, so there’s always the question in your mind.”
“I know I will beat it, it’s just a fact of time, time will heal, time will make my hand heal, and my game will come back at 100%.”
Stats via MLS/American Soccer Analysis