"It's been a rollercoaster": After return from scary injury, Maxime Crépeau is relishing every moment for LAFC, CanMNT
Nearly two years have passed since Maxime Crépeau’s departure from the Vancouver Whitecaps, but the club’s fans continue to have a frosty relationship with their former goalkeeper.
Frustrated at how he left the Whitecaps, who had watched him turn into one of the best goalkeepers in MLS and a fan favourite across his three seasons in the city after acquiring him from CF Montréal in 2019, the Vancouver fans have not been shy in letting Crépeau know in how they felt about his departure.
One that was done due to a “very special personal situation” according to Axel Schuster, but not one that was not due to the health of Crépeau or his family, per Crépeau himself, that has left the Whitecaps fans to believe that the reason for his departure was a desire to seek out greener pastures.
For a fanbase that has seen some of their favourite players depart in less-than-ideal circumstances before (see: Camilo, 2014), that frustrated them, which is why they made it clear that Crépeau would be public enemy #1 whenever he’d return.
Because of that, when LAFC visited Vancouver for the first time since the trade on July 2nd, 2022, they made sure to give it to their former goalkeeper, booing him all night long. On that day, they got the last laugh, too, as Vancouver claimed an 89th-minute winner off the boot of Andrés Cubas.
Then, last week, Crépeau made his second visit to Vancouver since the trade, as LAFC took on the Whitecaps on MLS’s Decision Day. There, the reception ended up being even frostier, too.
To be fair, part of that was on Crépeau, who employed some impressive diversion tactics on a pair of penalties, even starting a brawl after one of them, which only added fuel to the fire given that both of those spot-kicks ended up being missed.
But even before then, it was clear that Crépeau wasn’t going to get the warm reception most former players would get in their returns to Vancouver, and understandably so.
“Yeah, I mean it's part of the passion that people have for the game,” Crépeau told reports with a smile afterwards. “It’s part of the game, it exists everywhere, so you’ve just got to carry on, as it’s one of those things.”
Therefore, while he certainly heard the boos (who wouldn’t, to be fair?), that didn’t bother the 29-year-old from Greenfield Park, Québec, although it did provide him with a bit of motivation.
“Yes and no,” Crépeau said when asked if he relished the boos. “I don't honestly pay much attention to the boos - you can hear it, obviously - but I don't pay attention to it much, as what's important is what happens in between the white lines.”
But in the end, while he got the last laugh with his performance, which included a great penalty save (the other one hit the crossbar and bounced straight out), Crépeau’s run-ins with his former club aren’t done for the season.
Thanks to the 1-1 draw, that allowed the Seattle Sounders to leapfrog LAFC into second place as they beat St. Louis in their Decision Day matchup, that meant that the defending 2022 MLS Cup champions finished third in the West.
For those keeping track, that pits them against the sixth-place team in the West, none other than… this same Vancouver team.
Because of that, it means that the pair must now get set to play at least two more games against each other, with the possibility for a third thanks to MLS’s new best-of-three format, meaning that Vancouver and LA could play each other in four games in a row.
Luckily for Crépeau, just one of those matches will be in Vancouver, the second of the two guaranteed matches, but after how he riled up the crowd in the most recent visit, an even frostier welcome will surely await in that one.
Plus, given that the two clubs also met in the Concacaf Champions Cup (then Champions League) earlier this year, in which LAFC stomped Vancouver 6-0 across two legs, this also means that these games will be the fifth, sixth and potentially seventh times that the two have played each other this year, as well.
Therefore, while Crépeau’s history with the ‘Caps will only add fuel to the fire, it’s worth noting that these teams have gotten quite acquainted with each other already with those games. On top of other existing connections between the two teams - LAFC’s assistant head coach Marc Dos Santos used to be head coach of the Whitecaps, while Vancouver’s Triston Blackmon used to play for LAFC - those are all reasons why this series promises to be a feisty one.
“It's matchup #5 next week, so we’re going to know each other very well, both teams,” Crépeau joked. “So we’ve got to rest up and get prepared for what's coming next week in LA. We’re going to be studying those games, what we did well, what we did wrong, and try to take advantage of our home-field advantage, of course.”
And clearly, that familiarity is going to make for some interesting run-ins, such as the one between Crépeau and ‘Caps star, Ryan Gauld, the taker of those two missed penalties, had in the most recent game, for example.
Given that Gauld had entered that game with a sterling record on penalties, missing just two in his career and none for the ‘Caps, it’s fitting that a former teammate was the one that finally got to the usually unflappable Gauld, who didn’t strike either penalty with his usual conviction.
Yet, it appeared that Crépeau’s mind games on his former teammate had worked quite well, as instead of trying to trash talk Gauld, Crépeau had instead tried a softer approach, trying to hug and converse with him ahead of the penalties.
“Ryan’s a person that I know, and what a person and what a player,” Crépeau said of Gauld. “I love him like crazy off the field and on the field because I know him really well. And he knows me really well. I had a little chat (before the penalty), these things happen, right? Same on the second penalty.”
And Gauld is just one of many that he knows very well on the ‘Caps, so that could certainly be worth watching ahead of this series, one that you can only imagine Crépeau will be up for.
To be fair, however, that wasn’t going to be hard for the goalkeeper, who is relishing these sorts of encounters more than ever at the moment.
It can be easy to forget with the form that he’s been in as of late, but that game against Vancouver was only Crépeau’s eighth appearance since a return from a fractured leg he suffered in last year’s MLS Cup final, which came from a last-ditch and goal-saving tackle on Philadelphia’s Cory Burke in the 109th minute of that game, which also earned him a red card to go along with his injury.
His sacrifice paid off for his team, who’d overcome his absence to win the game on penalties, but it came at a hefty price; he was immediately ruled out of the 2022 World Cup with the CanMNT, in which he had a chance to see minutes, as well as a good chunk of this 2023 season.
Because of that, he didn’t actually return to the field until July, when he started playing for LAFC’s second team again, before making his MLS return in September, starting in an El Trafico matchup against rivals, LA Galaxy.
Now, however, as he nears the one-year anniversary of the injury, which will actually be on the same day of the team’s playoff matchup in Vancouver on November 5th, he feels like he’s back up to speed again.
Having endured some tough 50-50 tackles since then, the leg is certainly healed, and the fear of re-injuring it has long dissipated, leaving Crépeau to feel 110% again.
And, most importantly, he feels like it provided him with some valuable perspective, as the injury served as a reminder of what’s important in life, such as family and health.
So while some feared that this injury could derail Crépeau’s career, he feels like it’s instead given him a reset, as he’s come back with a new perspective on life.
“It’s been a hell of a roller coaster, in November, which is coming soon, it's going to be one year since it happened,” Crépeau admitted. “It took nine months to get fit, and ten months to feel fine without thinking about it. Obviously, the first months were really difficult physically, because you basically can't do too much, and then after that, you've got to learn to do everything again, from walking, to jumping, to running, everything is a learning process again. So it's been a long road, but at the end of the day, with an injury like this one, when I look back on it, I learned a lot about myself, as when you go through a long-term injury, it grounds you and reminds you what's important in life which is your health, family and then the rest is secondary.”
“No, not at all, (I’ve got no fear)”, Crépeau continued, when asked if he felt fear when he came back. “The first game that I played with the second team, back in LA, I had a 50/50, and the guy kicked me right in the shin in the same spot where I got injured, on a similar type of play, and I didn't even think about it, and it didn’t hurt, so I got up and was like it’s over, that fear is gone, so that’s definitely out of the way.”
Yet, perhaps that’s why Crépeau was non-bothered as the Whitecaps fans rained boos down on him during that meeting. Given that he had to spend as long as he did on the sideline, it makes moments like that one feel all the more special, serving as a reminder of why some enjoy the sport.
Because of that, Crépeau is getting set to enjoy every moment of the journey, as he and his team look to repeat as MLS Cup Champions.
At times during his recovery, there were probably moments where he’d wondered if he’d ever be able to do this again, so he’ll relish the opportunity to be able to play these sorts of games once more.
With big career goals still in his windshield, from winning more trophies with LAFC to getting that World Cup appearance he missed out on with the CanMNT, he’s still only getting started, too.
And he’s doing it all with a smile, making sure to relish every stop on this journey, even if it’s to endure the boos of his former fans, for example.
“I missed the game day, the adrenaline, the passion,” Crépeau reminisced. “That's what I missed the most, and not only at club level, but at the national team, as well.”
“So what I missed the most was being out there, having fun, playing with a smile, and enjoying these sorts of moments with my teammates.”