It was one piece. A split-second decision, just like the hundreds of thousands of other split-second decisions Maxime Crepeau had made in his long football career. Only this ended with Crepeau, a goalie, collapsing on the field with a broken right leg and the best season of his pro career over.
Three days later, the Canada national team would head out for their first World Cup in 36 years without him. That was nine months ago and Crepeau hasn’t played since.
But if he had the chance, he would do it again, he says.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Crepeau said as he sat in the shade after a practice session at LAFC’s practice facility in Cal State Los Angeles. “I really play with my heart on the field. I regret nothing.”
Crepeau is back in training but hasn’t attended full squad training. He was training on the touchlines ahead of LAFC’s last home game at BMO Stadium but has yet to get dressed for a game – and has no idea when he will.
“We don’t want to do anything that would put pressure on things,” said LAFC assistant coach Marc Dos Santos, who helped 15-year-old Crepeau break into professional football with the Montreal Impact in 2010. “Right now it’s really a week-to-week thing. Max will come back at the right moment and time.”
The play that changed the course of Crepeau’s career began when LAFC teammate Jesús Murillo sent a feeble back pass towards his own goal in overtime in last November’s MLS Cup final. Philadelphia Union forward Cory Burke capitalized on the error and ran for the ball, only Crepeau separating him from the winning goal.
The keeper was there first, sweeping the ball away and bringing Burke down with a clumsy slide tackle that saved the game but broke Crepeau’s right leg. While Crepeau was rushed to the hospital, John McCarthy took his place in goal and made two saves in the deciding shootout, earning him the MVP of the game award and giving LAFC their first league title.
crepeau celebrated with his teammates via Facetime on his cell phone.
Nine months later, McCarthy remains in goal where he already has career-high games, starts, minutes, wins and shutouts. Crepeau, who had MLS career bests in the same five categories last year, is happy for him.
“We’re like brothers,” said Crepeau, 29, who led the league in 2022 with 21 wins.
“I don’t think he’s going to take my job away from me. Rather, we are a team that helps the team get trophies. I see it more as a collective.”
The first days after the injury were the hardest, with more ups than downs. As soon as he was able to, Crepeau began to rehab and ride a stationary bike. And while he had no regrets, he mulled the injury over in his head many times.
“[It] was mentally difficult. Because you have to accept it,” he said. “When the World Cup started, I missed out on this big event that I’ve been working on for most of my life.”
Watching the tournament on TV with your leg in a cast was the low point, Dos Santos said.
“As we talked, he said, ‘Look, I don’t have many tears.’ But in the first game he really cried when he realized he wasn’t there,” he said. “You know, Max isn’t the type to stick with things that happen. At some point you have to say, “Let’s go, what’s next?” I think Max is capable of handling all of this.”
Walking, which Crepeau had never thought of, was suddenly… well, a big step forward.
“That might seem silly, but if you can walk up and down the stairs, that’s good too,” he said. “Then there are difficult times where you don’t see any progress for three or four days. And the fact that you’re not on the team and you’re not on the field can play a role in your mind. It’s important to recognize that and just accept it and try to be in the best possible shape mentally and physically.”
Crepeau speaks from experience. His only other serious injury came three years ago when the base of his left thumb came off and doctors had to insert three wires to repair the damage. Crepeau was absent for more than eight months and put in so many hours in the gym while his thumb healed that he came back in the best shape of his life.
This time he did almost the same thing.
“Physically, I’m doing very, very well,” he said. “Now it’s just more comfortable on the leg and more fluid.”
The fact that he hasn’t played or traveled with the team this season hasn’t just been bad, as it has allowed him to spend quality time with family, particularly his second child with his wife Cristina, who was born in May.
However, Crepeau could be back on the field soon. McCarthy’s start Saturday in Dallas was his ninth in 32 days and 25th of the entire season. That’s more than double their previous high and the MLS season is only half over, with LAFC set to play four more games over the next two weeks before the start of the month-long League Cup.
“Everything happens for a reason. I really play with my heart on the field. I have no regrets.”
— LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau
For his part, Crepeau is impatient but not in a hurry.
“I have to be fluid, fit and strong enough. I will continue to work on these aspects. So when I come back there’s absolutely no doubt and I’m just like it never happened,” he said. “I can’t cheat with myself or with the team.”
And if he has to put his body on the line to win a game, he wouldn’t hesitate, Crepeau said.
“When it happened, it was like, ‘Oh my god, why? Why did I break my leg? “I could have bruised a bone,” he said. “It’s a moment. It happens.”