Candiac, Que., goalkeeper sacrifices World Cup dream, cheers on Team Canada from afar

Los Angeles FC goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau will be 32 by the next World Cup. (Ringo H.W. Chiu/The Canadian Press/The Associated Press  - image credit)
Los Angeles FC goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau will be 32 by the next World Cup. (Ringo H.W. Chiu/The Canadian Press/The Associated Press - image credit)

Maxime Crépeau was so close. There were just a few minutes left in his MLS season when he made a split-second decision that changed the course of his life.

He had been widely expected to be the backup goalkeeper for Team Canada at the World Cup in Qatar.

At the MLS Cup final on Nov. 5, with the score tied at two and his Los Angeles FC playing the Philadelphia Union in the second overtime, Crépeau made his daring move.

His leg slammed into Philadelphia's Cory Burke's as the player was sprinting toward the net.

Philadelphia didn't score — but it was the last play the 28-year-old Quebecer will make on the pitch for months.

"I heard the snap and I didn't know which part, where, how, if it's me, if it's him."

It was Crépeau and it was bad.

With that game-saving move, the Candiac, Que., native sacrificed his right leg for his club team — and he also sacrificed his World Cup dreams, at least in the short term.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty images
Kevork Djansezian/Getty images

"Before going to the ambulance, I looked at my wife and this is the moment where everything clicks and that everything is out the window," he said.

Cristina Dagenais, his wife, says they both cried during the 45-minute ride to the hospital where doctors operated on Crépeau's broken leg.

"It's a dream that he had since he was little. He's been talking about that moment for 10 years," she said.

"I looked him in the eye and I said, 'Don't worry, you know you're going to get your chance in four years. It's going to be OK.'"

"And he said, 'Yeah, but this one is now.'"

As for this World Cup, Crépeau will be cheering from his home in L.A. where he upped his status to legendary among fans in the City of Angels.

Right after the collision — which earned Crépeau a red card — the Banc of California Stadium fell silent as fans and players realized the severity of the injury. But that silence changed to a deafening roar as he was being carted off the field toward an ambulance.

The goalkeeper flashed a thumbs up to the 22,000 fans and pumped his fist toward his teammates, encouraging them to carry on and win the game.

The stadium and the city were in a frenzy. Even actor Owen Wilson marvelled at Crépeau's bravery during a Facetime chat.

WATCH | Owen Wilson congratulates and consoles Maxime Crépeau:

 

Looking back, Crépeau says he wouldn't change a thing. He needed to make that play to save the game and his club's season.

"You don't cut corners," he said. "You have to go all out and I went all out. This is how I play."

He promises to be ready for the next World Cup in 2026.

"There's an opportunity for me to come back better and stronger," he said.

His Canadian teammates can understand his anguish.

"I am sad for him because I don't think there is anyone who deserved to be here more than him, with the season he's had. For the team here, he's an important component, someone who never hesitated to perform when we called on him," said Samuel Piette.

He and Crépeau played together at the U-17 World Cup and shared the dream to one day help bring Canada's senior team to the World Cup. "I told Max: we will have another shot in 2026 when the World Cup is back home."

As for, Crépeau believes his teammates can prove the pundits wrong about Qatar. He says Canada is there to win.

"We're not intimidated by anybody. We will respect the opposition — Belgium, Croatia and Morocco [who Canada will meet in the group stage] — but fear absolutely nobody," he said.

"It's difficult to play against 11 warriors. We will have 11 warriors on the field."