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Maxime Crépeau hoping to surpass expectations for new-look LAFC squad

Maxime Crépeau dives to make a save for the Vancouver Whitecaps against the San Jose Earthquakes during a match in August.
Maxime Crépeau dives to make a save for the Vancouver Whitecaps against the San Jose Earthquakes during a match in August. The goalkeeper will make his debut for LAFC in the team’s season opener Saturday against the Colorado Rapids.
(Josie Lepe / Associated Press)
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Maxime Crépeau was just 15 and playing in goal for a small team in Quebec when Marc dos Santos invited him to his first professional training session with the Montreal Impact, the club he coached.

It wouldn’t be the last time Dos Santos opened a door for him.

A month after he was hired as manager of the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2018, Dos Santos traded for Crépeau and watched him become one of the top keepers in MLS. Then last month the two followed each other to Los Angeles, with LAFC offering Dos Santos an assistant coaching job while simultaneously negotiating a trade for Crépeau.

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“We go way back,” said Crépeau, who will make his LAFC debut in Saturday’s regular-season opener with Colorado at Banc of California Stadium. “I’m glad that now we’re both here reunited. I think it’s a cool story, to be honest.”

Galaxy acquisition Douglas Costa became a star with Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine. Now he watches developments in his former home from afar with fear.

So does Dos Santos.

“It was only a question of him getting an opportunity,” he said. “I believed that, with the right opportunity, Max would be able to show all these qualities and I think that’s what happened. And he went from there.

“That’s the story between me and Max.”

The next chapter could be the most interesting one, though. It begins with Dos Santos, an assistant to Bob Bradley’s in LAFC’s inaugural season, returning to join the staff of new coach Steve Cherundolo. Crépeau, unhappy with his friend’s late-season firing in Vancouver, followed after forcing the Whitecaps to trade him to Southern California for $1 million in allocation money plus a first-round draft pick, the most expensive deal for a goalkeeper in league history.

Vancouver Whitecaps coach Marc dos Santos instructs his players during a 2019 match against the New England Revolution.
Vancouver Whitecaps coach Marc dos Santos instructs his players during a 2019 match against the New England Revolution. Dos Santos is working as an assistant coach with LAFC this season.
(Steven Senne / Associated Press)

Now it’s up to Crépeau to make it all pay off.

“There’s some pressure. It’s a natural aspect of sports,” said Crépeau, who has one season and a club option left on his contract. “We need to perform, we need to win, especially in this organization where there’s that culture and that mentality since day one.

“I love pressure, but I don’t think about it. Maybe that’s why I love it.”

He won’t be shouldering that pressure alone. John Thorrington, LAFC’s co-president and general manager, had an outstanding winter, adding not only Crépeau, a Canadian international, but Ilie Sánchez and U.S. international Kellyn Acosta in the midfield, and Franco Escobar and Doneil Henry, a teammate of Crépeau‘s with Canada, on defense.

Over the last seven months the roster has undergone the most dramatic makeover in LAFC’s five-year history, with only Latif Blessing and captain Carlos Vela remaining from the club’s inaugural season. But if Vela stays both healthy and motivated — and stays with the team beyond the expiration of his contract in June — Cherundolo has more than enough talent to get the team back to the playoff tournament it missed last season.

However, the coach warned, it might take time for all those pieces to come together.

U.S. women’s national team players, U.S. Soccer and Cindy Parlow Cone all credibly declared victory after settling a messy equal-pay lawsuit.

“Any time you make changes, those changes take time to settle in,” he said. “We are very happy with the changes we made. We think we have a good team.

“But to get all those changes firing on all pistons, we need a little time. So as ambitious as we are and excited [as] we are about this group, we also understand it’s a long season. It’s important where you are at the end of the season, not the beginning.”

Crépeau, who posted career bests for games (27), save percentage (75.8%) and shutouts (six) last season, will be key if LAFC’s season is to have that happy ending. The team went through three goalkeepers in 2021 while giving up 51 goals and finishing with a losing record (12-13-9) for the first time.

The new goalie’s national team duties delayed his start with his new club, leaving him little time to get acquainted with his new city, let alone a new back line.

“There’s always a period of adaptation to a new city and organization,” said Crépeau, 27, who has temporarily settled in a rental home in South Pasadena with his wife Cristina and 9-month-old daughter Lyvia. “A lot of people see only the football side and just the green rectangle. But there’s new teammates, getting to know them, getting to know their tendencies and the vision of the organization.”

Dos Santos predicts that it won’t take long.

Fatma Al-Nuaimi, the executive communications director of the Organizing Committee of the Qatar 2022 World Cup, talks about the tournament.

“Max didn’t need an introduction,” he said. “It’s not like I arrived in L.A. and said, ‘Hey, there’s this goalkeeper in Vancouver right?’ People knew what Max was doing in MLS. I don’t think I needed to push too much.”

But he did push to get Crépeau started on this road a dozen years ago. And he’s not surprised it has taken him to this latest stop.

“Every time you see people you worked with and you see signs of leadership, of quality, and years later you see them reach important goals, you’re always happy for them,” he said. “Especially when they’re good guys.

“Max is a fantastic teammate. He wants to win. He’s very good. When you see that happening, it’s good for everybody.”

Team roster

Goalkeepers: Maxime Crépeau, John McCarthy, Tomas Romero

Defenders: Erik Dueñas, Franco Escobar, Mamadou Fall, Julian Gaines, Doneil Henry, Ryan Hollingshead, Sebastien Ibeagha, Kim Moon-hwan, Antonio Leone, Jesús Murillo, Diego Palacios, Eddie Segura, Mohamed Traore

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta, Latif Blessing, José Cifuentes, Francisco Ginella, Ilie Sánchez

Forwards: Cristian Arango, Cal Jennings, Daniel Musovski, Kwadwo Opoku, Brian Rodríguez, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Christian Torres, Carlos Vela

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