LAFC's Crépeau standing tall after broken leg in title match
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Maxime Crépeau wanted to watch the last minutes of the MLS Cup final during his ride to the hospital, but he couldn't get a stream to work in the ambulance. The Los Angeles FC goalkeeper and his wife gave up and started refreshing a statistical webpage on his phone, his broken right leg becoming increasingly painful as the adrenaline wore off.
Crépeau never saw the refresh for the final kick in the championship-deciding penalty shootout because his father had already called him to tell him he was a Major League Soccer champion, in no small part because of that broken leg throbbing before him.
“From that moment, it was a party in the ambulance,” Crépeau said.
His dreams of a World Cup appearance for Canada were obviously over, but Crépeau had won a ring and a place in MLS lore with his devastating injury in the 110th minute from a brave — and quite possibly game-saving — challenge on unmarked Philadelphia forward Cory Burke.
“It was a play I didn’t even think about,” Crépeau said. “It was just really instinct, and I was just going for it.”
Nearly three months after that November title game, Crépeau is done celebrating, almost done healing and ready to start working again. The goalie who stabilized LAFC’s defense in its championship season has another round of X-rays scheduled early next week, and if they’re OK, he will start running again.
He won’t be ready for the start of LAFC’s title defense season in three weeks, but he hopes to return in the spring, certainly before June.
“It's not always beautiful, the journey,” Crépeau said. "There was a lot of pain (physically), and a lot of pain mentally as well, missing out on the World Cup. ... You're at 100, and you go to zero in a split second. But when you wear that jersey and you see the (champion's) star, I'm emotionally attached to it. Because for me, it's non-negotiable. I always give 110%, whatever happens. I took the worst out of the hit, but that star is something to me. I left my leg for the star."
Crépeau has a clear memory of just about every that happened after his split-second decision to challenge Burke went wrong.
“You realize your leg is broken, and my first thought was, the game is not over, right?” he said. “But I’m kind of in a bit of a shock, and then I have the realization of the World Cup in three weeks. So that was my first five minutes after it happened. And then the pain just kind of creeps in there as well.”
When he got to the hospital in nearby Baldwin Park, his teammates began FaceTiming him in the midst of their championship celebrations — including his backup, John McCarthy, who made two saves in the penalty shootout to earn the game’s MVP award.
“The doctors were coming in to evaluate me, and I was like, ‘Just don’t talk to me for a second,’” Crépeau said with a laugh. “‘Just give me five minutes!’ But of course you can’t say that to the doc.”
Crépeau’s offseason was spent largely in a wheelchair while healing from surgery. He still enjoyed the fruits of his sacrifice as a fixture on LAFC’s celebratory tour of Los Angeles’ top sports and entertainment destinations with the MLS Cup in tow on his two-wheeled excursions.
“It’s funny, because I never got recognized in public before the final,” he said. “Now, people have started coming up and saying, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ It’s a huge city with a lot of professional teams ... but people are more attached to our club because of this, so it’s a special feeling.”
Crépeau's first season at LAFC was a clear success even before he capped it by winning a ring, and he appears to be the club's goalie of the future as well. LAFC signed 38-year-old former Everton goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic to help alongside McCarthy, but Crépeau expects to be back in the lineup once he heals.
“It was a little bit bittersweet, but things happen,” he said of 2022. “And now we've got to make another trophy so I can enjoy it with the guys.”
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Greg Beacham, The Associated Press