PHOTOS: Steve Kingsman/Freestyle Photography/Ottawa Fury FC
By Théo Gauthier
One day, you’re taken to your older brother’s soccer match, and the appeal of the sport works its magic on you. Shortly thereafter, you’re playing as a defender for your hometown on Montreal’s south shore, but your team’s keeper is away on vacation. Teammates are looking around and asking: “Who’s crazy enough to play keeper?” You raise your hand, get your debut in goal…and never look back. This is the story of Ottawa Fury FC and Canadian men’s national team keeper Maxime Crépeau.
“We won that game against Saint-Hubert 3-1, by the way,” he says, chuckling with a glimmer of pride in his eyes. Maxime Crépeau has denied goalscorers for the better part of 14 years, from the fields of Club Soccer Roussillon in Saint-Constant, Québec, to Saputo Stadium in Montreal, and this season at TD Place in Ottawa for the Fury. “That’s where it came from: ‘I’m going to be a keeper now’”.
“I love it,” he continues, his mind wandering back to the present. “(Being keeper) is a knife with two blades. It’s amazing: you can save the team, but in the meantime, you can drown so fast. You can get the recognition when you’re doing well, but you miss a pass or let one go in…well, all eyes are on you.” It’s the kind of pressure that could bury a lesser human, but Crépeau is level-headed enough to recognise that blunders can happen to the greatest keepers in the world. “We’ve seen it in the World Cup. There’s been monumental goalkeeping mistakes. (David De Gea)’s got the Golden Gloves in the English Premier League. Great goalkeeper, but it can happen,” he says, referring to the Spaniard’s mistake in a recent group match against Portugal when a shot from Cristiano Ronaldo slipped through his hands and into the back of the net in front of a stunned global audience.
Fury fans may currently have the privilege of watching Crépeau between the posts every week, but observers of the Canadian men’s national team have been monitoring the boy from Candiac’s progress for almost a decade. “I joined the Montreal Impact’s academy at the age of 15,” he recalls. It was also during this time that he got swooped up in Canada Soccer’s development program. “I was 15, but this is when I started in the under-17 group under (Head Coach) Sean Fleming.”
Crépeau progressed well enough to be selected to Fleming’s squad for the 2011 Under-17 World Cup in Mexico. Canada played well and drew Rwanda and England to start the tourney, only to be eliminated in the third group match against Uruguay—Crépeau’s first start wearing the maple leaf. It would also lead to a lengthy injury spell after an unfortunate collision. “I (made) contact with one of the strikers and I (suffered) a partial tear to my ACL and MCL. No surgery needed, that was the good news about it, but it took me nine months (to recover). It was a long, long, long way.”
His progress in Canada’s youth teams continued until he made his full senior debut two years ago in a friendly against the United States. Crépeau made six saves over a full 90 minutes and was well on his way to his first clean sheet for Canada before Jozy Altidore scored the winner off a no-doubt header in the 89th minute. Current and former Ottawa Fury players featured prominently in that match: Crépeau, Marcel de Jong, Doneil Henry, Jamar Dixon and current General Manager Julian de Guzman.
In the match against French Guiana in that 2017 edition of the Gold Cup—our region’s equivalent of the Euro or Copa America—Crépeau had a small cameo in what might become an important part of Canadian soccer history. Crépeau would eventually play in that match, replacing the injured Milan Borjan. That’s not the significant part. As he was warming up near the opposition’s corner flag, Alphonso Davies—at the time the 16-year-old young phenom out of Vancouver who had just declared his soccer allegiance to Canada—scored his first goal. “Fonzie,” Crépeau says, looking at once energised and wistful. After exploding out of the midfield and latching onto the ball, Davies sprinted down the field and buried the ball in the back of the net. Without breaking stride, he went to the corner flag to celebrate with Crépeau and the other Canadian bench players.
“I remember that,” Crépeau recalls. “When we heard the news that Fonzie was going Canadian, everyone was really happy because it’s great news for the country. When he went on that run and beat the keeper we were just so happy for him. He’s a hard worker and for a young guy he has a lot of pressure on his shoulders, because all eyes in the country—and even more all eyes around the world—are watching and trying to scout him. It was an amazing moment. We could see that all the pressure went ‘pouff’: released. And since then he’s just gotten better and better.”
Milan Borjan is still, without doubt, Canada’s number one keeper, but Crépeau’s got his eyes on representing Canada on home soil for the 2026 World Cup, which begins by establishing a relationship with John Herdman, the former Canadian women’s national team coach who switched to the men’s side in 2018. They’ve spoken by phone, but have yet to meet in person since his appointment. “I just can’t wait to meet him and finally understand his position on what his team positioning is and all that stuff,” says Crépeau. “(The men’s team) had one camp but I wasn’t there. A lot of teammates were and told me about…(his) great mentality. So I can’t wait to work with him now.”
Crépeau says he’s hoping to get a call-up when Canada begins play in the newly conceived CONCACAF Nations League starting in September. “I hope so,” he says, his expression changing to one of resolve. “For sure I want to represent the country; it’s the biggest honour. I’ve had the chance to do it, and I hope I’m going to do it again. I’m still young; I’m 24. And as a goalkeeper, 24 is when you start playing, so I’m happy to work hard and get that in motion because Qatar ‘22 is another opportunity. We didn’t qualify for Russia. But I was there with the group, and I know how we felt the night we didn’t qualify for the Hex. I know that feeling, and we want to do it. In four years it’s a new generation as well. And it’s going to be a mix as well. And in ’26: brand new generation and I’ll be 32. So we don’t even know what’s going to happen at that time. It’s too far.”
Alphonso Davies’s goal in the Gold Cup wasn’t Crépeau’s only brush with historic moments in Canadian soccer history. In 2015, the Montreal Impact made a dazzling run to the Final, beating Mexican club Pachuca and Costa Rican power Alajuelense on its way to a two-legged dream date with Club Amrérica. In the first leg of the final in Mexico City, in which the Impact scored a crucial away goal to draw 1-1, goalkeeper Evan Bush got a yellow card in the 89th minute for time-wasting. That was Bush’s second yellow in the competition, which meant he would be suspended for the return leg at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.
Bush’s suspension created a “touchy situation” for Impact management, Crépeau recalls. “I (was coming) back from a bone bruise on my left shoulder.” The morning after the match was to be Crépeau’s first training session in three months, and he had limited first team action with the club up to that point. “Was I game fit? Probably not.” Instead of throwing a relatively green keeper into the cauldron of a sold-out Big O in the Final against the most decorated team in North American soccer, the Impact called in a favour to get an emergency keeper. “They decided to go with Kristian Nicht, a guy from Indy Eleven at that time,” says Crépeau, measuring his words. “I felt—not backed into a corner, but—I was young, and I was like ‘Hey, I want to play. I want to be that man.’ But I think Montreal just played it safe instead of taking that risk. They went for an experienced guy like Kristian who was 33 or 34 at that time. I was 22—21 even—and coming back from a three-month injury without catching a ball. That’s what made the decision.”
The fact that he had to watch on from the bench didn’t diminish Crépeau’s appreciation of the spectacle, as 61,004 fans crammed into the old building in Montreal’s east end to cheer on the Impact, who fell just short of their goal by losing 4-2. “That was insane. In-SANE! My bones were shaking before the game because there were so many screams, so much sound, and the Olympic Stadium is a bubble. When you’re in the middle of it? Oh, my God. You can hear everything. That sound is unreal. It’s way too much down on the field. At the beginning of the game we were screaming at each other and (couldn’t) understand anything.”
Crépeau’s future with the Impact is murky. The club has an option to bring him back in 2019, while Evan Bush’s contract with the Impact runs out at the end of the current season. Crépeau spent the 2017 season mostly on the bench backing up Bush, getting three MLS starts and four in the Voyageurs Cup. “It was great because I’ve been waiting. There are three to four goalkeepers in a team, and there’s (only) one playing. So there’s one couch for five guys.” The crowded couch led to an excellent opportunity for Julian de Guzman, Nikola Popovic and the Ottawa Fury.
At the beginning of the current season, the Impact gave Crépeau some instruction and sent him down Highway 40 to Ottawa. “They told me ‘Go to Ottawa. Do your stuff. Then we’ll talk at the end of the year.’” His presence in goal has helped guide the Ottawa club to eight clean sheets so far in 2018. He describes his time in Ottawa as a renewal, both for him and for the team he backstops every week. “It’s the first time that I’m playing every game,” he says. “I feel so good. When you’re on the field every two, three days, playing regularly, you get the rhythm (with which) you’re comfortable, and you find your reference points. You get really comfortable.”
Asked to provide a one-word answer to describe his time with the Fury so far, Crépeau waffles a little bit, testing “great” and “amazing”, before settling on another: “One word is difficult! I want to choose the right one! It’s: a renewal. It’s the first time that I’m playing every game. I feel so good.” On top of putting in stellar performances on a weekly basis, he’s been making sure to let his teammates know how happy he is to be part of the squad. “It’s so nice. It’s been great because I talk to the guys and tell them I’m really happy that Julian brought me here. I played with him on the national team. I thank him because he’s the one giving me the opportunity to flip the page from Montreal, get some games and get some minutes. It’s a ‘vague de transition.’ A renewal.”
Crépeau believes his season with the Ottawa Fury is the turning point in his career. “It was a little more difficult in the first month that I was here. Now, I’ve got the rhythm of the city and the club. It’s working.”
In a serendipitous twist of fortune, Crépeau gets to continue training with the man who has been there as his teacher every day since the age of 15. When new Impact head coach Rémi Garde was hired in the offseason, he brought his own staff. That meant that Youssef Dahha, who had been with the club as a goalkeeping coach for 14 years, was deemed excess to requirements. With the departure of Bruce Grobbelaar from the Fury, de Guzman was quick to snap up Dahha and bring him to Ottawa, ensuring a seamless transition for Crépeau. “I know how he works because he’s trained with me every day since I was 15. It’s really tight. To be fair, he’s the one behind my progression as a goalkeeper and as a player.”
For a keeper, there is nothing more valuable than to get match time. For this, Crépeau is grateful to Fury Head Coach Nikola Popovic: “He’s the one that’s giving me confidence right now. He gave me the opportunity. I’m grabbing it, and I don’t want to let go.” With his performances this season, there is little chance of that happening. It could be argued that halfway through the Fury season, he’s been their most valuable player; his USL Player of the Month award for May would seem to back up that claim.
Still, there is no rest for the weary. Asked if there is one thing in particular that Crépeau and Dahha have improved in his game while with the Fury, his response is as quick as his reflexes inside the 18-yard box: “Positioning. My positioning depending on where the ball is. In the 18; outside the 18; when we defend; when we attack; my positioning has really changed. I feel more comfortable covering more angles, covering more distance on the corners, coming out of crosses and stuff. I feel a little more aggressive and comfortable moving my feet. It’s a big game changer.”
So what would a successful Fury season look like from Crépeau’s perspective? “If the team’s in the playoffs, that’s great. It’s not about putting pressure on our shoulders, but not being in the playoffs would be disappointing, that’s for sure. We want to get there.” As of this writing, the Fury sit four points outside the playoff picture in the USL’s Eastern Conference. “We can get there,” he says. “We don’t want to get to the end (of the season) and say ‘We should have.’”
Crépeau, already generous with his time and gracious about extending the interview, is asked to name a footballer who he’s interacted with that has had the most significant influence on his career. It doesn’t take long for him to respond: “The one that comes to mind is my best buddy Laurent Ciman.” Ciman is a Belgian international and World Cup veteran who played three seasons with the Impact from 2015 to 2017 before being traded to MLS expansion team Los Angeles Football Club in the offseason. He was, along with Ignacio Piatti, the best player on the Montreal club during his time there. “We’re like this since he came to Montreal,” Crépeau says as he crosses his fingers. “I’m jealous because my wife Christina has been to visit them in L.A. twice and I haven’t had a chance because of the season.”
Crépeau seems almost surprised when asked what it is about Ciman that has influenced him the most, as if it should be self-evident: “Oh! His professionalism. He’s not going to eat or drink whatever. He’s taking so much care of his body, which is so important because right now he’s going on 33.”
Before we wrap up, Crépau insists on naming a few more influential footballers in his life: “When I first signed (with the Impact), (goalkeeper) Troy Perkins was really focused: day in, day out. Also, (current Impact keeper) Evan Bush because of his attitude and work ethic. After that, I have to say (current Canadian men’s number one keeper) Milan Borjan for his craziness. I love him. I’m like his little brother; he’s like my big brother; we have a great relationship. Milan because he always works hard. He knows how to do serious stuff and when to get out of football and just talk and chill. Milan’s a great guy. Amazing, amazing lad.”
Maxime Crépeau may only be 24, but he’s already travelled down a winding footballer’s path. His honesty and maturity shine through not only one-on-one but also under the pressure of the media scrum.
We may never find out the name of the young keeper who went on vacation and forced Crépeau to stand between the sticks for the first time, but Fury fans and an entire nation may grow to be thankful for that serendipitous absence.