Whitecaps 'keeper Maxime Crepeau dreaming about being back on the soccer pitch

It's been 80 days since the Vancouver Whitecaps last saw action, so goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau can be forgiven for dreaming about soccer.

But for the 26-year-old Canadian international from Candiac, Que., it's far more than just wishful thinking during the global pandemic.

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"All athletes have little things that work for them," Crepeau explained. "And for me it's really visualization. I put myself on the pitch ... I put myself in those situations in my head. It's a working practice for me."

He often does it while relaxed at night, spending five or 10 minutes visualizing before falling asleep in the hope that the good thoughts continue.

Crepeau, who has made the Whitecaps starting job his own since coming over in a December 2018 trade from Montreal, sees hope for the 2020 Major League Soccer season.

Most MLS teams are now holding voluntary individual workouts outdoors at their training centres. The NWSL has progressed to small group training. Soccer has returned to action in Germany and South Korea. Portugal (May 30) and Spain's La Liga (June 8) have been given the green light to resume play.

"Honestly there's hope. There's light in the tunnel," Crepeau said. "Now it's a matter of logistics."

Still, he realizes he's part of a bigger picture.

"Right now the priority is the safety of everyone. It's not just sports, it's the whole world," he said.

While individual training for a goalkeeper is not perfect, Crepeau isn't complaining.

"It's not comparable to having teammates to play with but it's actually better than nothing," he said.

It's also a chance to finally see teammates, even if they are in a different portion of the pitch or the parking lot.

Crepeau, who signed a new deal last July that runs through 2022 with an option for 2023, has found a home on and off the pitch in Vancouver along with wife Cristina and Diego, their three year-old Goldendoodle who weighs in at 85 pounds.

Crepeau came through the Montreal Impact academy and was the Impact's fourth homegrown player signing. After playing just three regular-season games for the Impact from 2013 to 2017, he spent 2018 on loan with Ottawa Fury FC in the USL, where he kept a league-record 15 clean sheets in 31 regular-season appearances.

"When I went to Ottawa that was the first step. As I came back, I knew I was not the priority to get the No. 1 (job). So I was 'OK, let's find a solution' and Vancouver arrived in the picture. It was great for me. I was ready to leave and I'm happy to (still) be in a Canadian club as well."

He came to Vancouver in a deal that netted Montreal US$50,000 in targeted allocation money and Vancouver's third-round pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft (a pick Montreal subsequently passed on).

The trade has turned out to be a steal, although it can be argued that the Impact did Crepeau a favour by finding him a new home.

In an off-year by the Whitecaps (8-16-10) last season, Crepeau ranked fifth in the league in saves (114) and registered five shutouts in 26 regular-season appearance. The acrobatic shot-stopper made a league-record 16 saves in a 3-1 loss at San Jose last August, erasing Tony Meola's 1997 mark of 15.

On the international front, the five-foot-11, 195-pounder has made five appearances for Canada including four starts. He debuted as a youth international at 15 and went on to represent Canada at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico in 2011, the Francophone Games in Nice, France, in 2013 and the Pan American Games in Toronto in 2015.

He made his senior debut in February 2016 in a 1-0 loss to the U.S. at Carson, Calif., with Jozy Altidore scoring the winner in the 90th minute.

Vancouver was 1-1-0 prior to the pandemic, with Crepeau recording a clean sheet last time out in a 1-0 win at the Los Angeles Galaxy on March 7. The Whitecaps lost their season opener, beaten 3-1 by visiting Sporting Kansas City.

Crepeau sees good things ahead for the Whitecaps when play resumes. The holdovers understand each other while the newcomers have added more quality and determination, he argues.

"It's day and night compared to the previous squad that we had."

With 15 Canadians on the first-team roster, you could call the Whitecaps Canada's team. In contrast, the Montreal Impact have 11 and Toronto FC 10.

Off the field, Crepeau takes pride in what the Whitecaps have done in the community during the pandemic, from helping the Vancouver Aquarium through the sale of masks and selling artwork to raise funds for local food banks to just calling local residents to check on them.

"When I came here to Vancouver — it's been a year and half now — I felt the community was strong," said Crepeau. "Everyone was connected and they were all-in for the city as a community. I'm not even talking football-wise here.

"If people buy into something, everyone will do it together."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2020.

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