LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau has been fighting to recover from a fractured leg he sustained during last season’s MLS Cup final. (John McCoy / Associated Press)
It was one play. A split-second decision, just like the hundreds of thousands of other split-second decisions Maxime Crepeau had made in his long soccer career. Only this one ended with Crepeau, a goalkeeper, crumpled on the field, his right leg shattered and the best season of his professional career over.
Three days later, the Canadian national team would leave for its first World Cup in 36 years without him. That was nine months ago and Crepeau hasn’t played since.
Yet given the chance, he says he would do it all over again.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Crepeau said, sitting in the shade after a training session at LAFC’s practice facility at Cal State Los Angeles. “I really play with my heart on the field. I don’t regret anything.”
LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau (16) collides with Philadelphia Union forward Cory Burke (19) during extra time in the MLS Cup final on Nov. 5 in Los Angeles. Crepeau broke his leg on the play. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)
Crepeau is practicing again but has not joined full-team training. He worked out on the sidelines before LAFC’s last home match at BMO Stadium, but has yet to suit up for a game — and has no idea when he will.
“We don’t want to do anything that would put pressure on this,” said LAFC assistant coach Marc Dos Santos, who gave a 15-year-old Crepeau his start in professional soccer with the Montreal Impact in 2010. “Right now, it’s really a week-to-week thing. Max is going to come back at the right moment, at the right time.”
The play that altered the course of Crepeau’s career began with LAFC teammate Jesús Murillo sending a weak back pass toward his own goal deep in extra time of last November’s MLS Cup final. Philadelphia Union forward Cory Burke pounced on the mistake, streaking toward the ball with only Crepeau between him and the winning goal.
The keeper got there first, sweeping the ball away and taking Burke down with an awkward slide tackle that saved the game but fractured Crepeau’s right leg. While Crepeau was carted off to the hospital, John McCarthy took his place in goal and made two saves in the tiebreaking penalty shootout, earning game MVP honors and giving LAFC its first league title.
Crepeau celebrated with his teammates through Facetime on his cellphone.
Nine months later, McCarthy remains in goal, where he has already recorded career highs for games, starts, minutes, wins and shutouts. Crepeau, who recorded MLS career highs in the same five categories last year, says he’s happy for him.
“We’re like brothers,” said Crepeau, 29, who led the league with 21 wins in 2022.
“So I don’t see it as he’s taking my job. It’s more we are a crew helping the team lift trophies. I see it more as a collective.”
The first days after the injury were the toughest, with more ups than downs. Crepeau began rehabbing and riding a stationary bike as soon as he was able. And while there were no regrets, he did replay the injury in his mind many times.
“[It] was difficult mentally. Because you have to accept it,” he said. “When the World Cup started, I was missing out on that huge event I worked pretty much my whole life to get to.”
Read more: For LAFC founding owner Peter Guber, MLS Cup journey carries special significance
Watching the tournament on TV with his leg in a cast was the low point, Dos Santos said.
“When we spoke he said, ‘Look, I don’t have a lot of tears.’ But tears really came out in the first game when he realized he wasn’t there,” he said. “You know, Max is not a guy that stays with things that happen. At some point, you have to say, ‘Let’s go, what’s next?’ I think Max is of the mindset to overcome all of this.”
Walking, something Crepeau had never even thought about, was suddenly … well, a big step forward.
“This may seem stupid, but when you can go up and down the stairs is good as well,” he said. “Then there’s some difficult times where you don’t see progress for three, four days. And the fact you’re away from the team and not on the field can play in your head. It’s important to recognize that and just accept it and try to be in the best place possible mentally and physically.”
Crepeau speaks from experience. His only other serious injury came three years ago when the base of his left thumb detached, requiring doctors to insert three wires to repair the damage. Crepeau was out more than eight months and spent so many hours in the gym while his thumb healed that he came back in the best shape of his life.
LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, shown holding up the Supporters’ Shield trophy his team won last season, is working to recover from a broken leg he suffered during extra time of the MLS Cup final. (Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)
He did much the same thing this time.
“Physically I’m feeling really, really well,” he said. “Now it’s just being more comfortable on that leg and being more fluid.”
The fact he hasn’t played or traveled with the team this season hasn’t all been bad because it allowed him to spend time with family, especially his and wife Cristina’s second child, who was born in May.
Crepeau could find himself back on the field soon though. McCarthy’s start Saturday in Dallas was his ninth in 32 days and his 25th of the season in all competition. That’s more than double his previous high and the MLS season is just half over, with LAFC scheduled to play four more games in the next two weeks before the month-long Leagues Cup starts.
“Everything happens for a reason. I really play with my heart on the field. I don’t regret anything.”
LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau
For his part Crepeau is impatient but not in a rush.
“I need to be fluid, fit and strong enough. I will keep on working on these aspects so when I go back, there’s absolutely zero doubt and I’m just like it never happened,” he said. “I cannot cheat with either myself or the team.”
And if he has to put his body on the line to win a game, Crepeau said he wouldn’t hesitate.
“When it happened it’s like ‘Oh my God, why? Why did I break my leg? I could have gotten a bone bruise,’ ” he said. “It’s a moment. It happens.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.