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When goalkeeper Max Crepeau went down at the MLS is Back Tournament in July 2020, he told the referee to give him a minute to recover. Unfortunately that minute turned into six months.
Crepeau was hurt in a game with Seattle, at the wrong end of a collision with Handwalla Bwana as both went after a low cross in front of goal. As Crepeau dove for the ball, Bwana stepped on his hand before flying over the 'keeper.
A bone at the base of Crepeau's left thumb was shattered. Another part was also damaged.
"They had to open (the thumb), put wires in and get these two pieces together. And remove a few shattered bones between that facture," said Crepeau.
The wires were in for six weeks and the thumb was immobilized for two months.
"After that it was really like learning how to use your hand again," said Crepeau, who is left-handed. "It's crazy to say but that was the process behind everything."
Crepeau, who did not return last season, says his hand is fine now, although it gets sore if he writes for more than five minutes.
Restored to health, the Vancouver Whitecaps 'keeper and 70th-ranked Canada look to beat the 20th-ranked U.S. on Sunday at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City and claim first place in Group B at the Gold Cup.
"It's always a game that has a lot of energy," Crepeau said of facing the Americans. "Everyone is all-in."
"There's definitely something there between the two countries," he added. "We are looking forward to getting on the field and topping the group."
While Canada and the U.S. are both 2-0-0 and have the same goal difference going into the match, the Canadians have scored one more goal. Canada will finish atop the group with a draw or victory while the Americans need a win.
Both teams have already qualified for the knockout round.
The group winner faces the runner-up in Group C in the quarterfinals. That means taking on either No. 45 Jamaica or No. 50 Costa Rica, who meet Tuesday to decide the group.
The Group B runner-up ends up in the bottom half of draw, which could feature No. 11 Mexico if it wins Group A. But to do that the Mexicans, thanks to a scoreless draw with No. 103 Trinidad and Tobago, have to beat No. 69 El Salvador on Sunday.
Like Canada, the U.S. brought a young side to the tournament, devoid of its big stars. The U.S. starting 11 in Thursday's 6-1 win over Martinique had a combined cap count of 54 going into the match while Canada's starters in the earlier 4-1 victory against Haiti totalled 175 caps.
U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter is likely to add more experience for the Canada game, with Gyasi Zardes and Kellyn Acosta options after starting on the bench against Martinique.
Canada will be without influential midfielder Stephen Eustaquio, who picked up a second yellow card against Haiti.
The Canadian men ended a 34-year, 17-match winless run against their North American rivals in October 2019 with a 2-0 victory in CONCACAF Nations League play in Toronto. Still the Americans, who beat Canada 4-1 the next month in Orlando in the second leg of the Nations League tie, lead the series 15-9-11.
Crepeau, a native of Candiac, Que., who has two clean sheets in eight Canadian senior appearances, says Canada has the traditional CONCACAF powers in its sights.
"We're trying to close the gap as much as we can and reach the No. 1 spot in CONCACAF. Honestly that's our goal, that's our goal as an association."
That means beating the likes of the U.S., Mexico, Jamaica, Costa Rica and Honduras, he added.
The 27-year-old Crepeau is doing his part at the Gold Cup, with some big saves late in the first half of Canada's win over Haiti.
"He's a top goalie. He came up big for us tonight," said midfielder Tajon Buchanan.
Sunday's game will be a precursor to a Sept. 5 match against the U.S. in Nashville, part of the final round of World Cup qualifying in the region that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
Canada is 8-0-0 in 2021, outscoring mainly lesser opposition 39-3. Its last loss was Jan. 15, 2020, a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Iceland.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 17, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press