This time last year, Maxime Crépeau was sitting in a hospital bed, with his broken leg in a cast, watching his Canadian men’s national team play at the World Cup for the first time in 36 years. This year, Crépeau is taking LAFC to another MLS Western Conference final thanks to a Man of the Match night in Seattle.
Just a single goal from Denis Bouanga was enough to decide Sunday’s late MLS Cup Playoff game at Lumen Field. But, if not for the CanMNT No. 2, we could be talking about the end of LAFC’s MLS Cup title defence.
Crépeau made four elite saves on Sunday night and kept a seven-save clean sheet to hand the Sounders their first playoff loss at home in over a decade.
The Canadian barely had time to settle into the damp Seattle night before the Sounders tested him with two glorious scoring chances within the first four minutes.
First, Seattle youngster Josh Atencio tested Crépeau with a left-footed strike from the top of the box, which the former Vancouver Whitecap dove to his right to push aside.
Then less than two minutes later, Jordan Morris outran 39-year-old Giorgio Chiellini and nearly chipped the Canadian who came sprinting out to cut down the angle. But Crépeau reactions were too quick for the American, and the LAFC keeper got his big right hand high enough to deny the Sounders and a sold-out 68,740 seat stadium an opening goal.
It was quite the night for Crépeau who starred in last October’s MLS Cup Final victory, until breaking his leg in extra-time in an unfortunate and gruesome collision that also saw the goalkeeper red carded. LAFC would go on to win their first MLS Cup with backup John McCarthy denying the Philadelphia Union in a penalty shootout. But Crépeau’s World Cup dreams ended on the pitch at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles and there were many who feared he may never play professionally again.
After a brief conditioning stint with LAFC 2 in MLS Next Pro, Crépeau took the gloves for LAFC again in mid-September and made just 11 appearances before Sunday’s triumph, including two wins over his former Vancouver Whitecaps in the first round Best-of-3 series before the international break, where he served as a backup to Milan Borjan against Jamaica.
LAFC took a 1-0 lead into halftime thanks to Bouanga, who belted home his fourth goal of these MLS Cup playoffs to put the visitors on top in the 40th minute.
To go along with Crépeau’s stellar goalkeeping on Sunday night, there was some elite shithousery on display from LAFC. The MLS Cup champions made Seattle wait for several minutes at the centre circle before coming out of the tunnel to start the second half. Then Crépeau delayed his corner kicks so long that referee Ted Unkel came over to give him a talking to seven minutes into the second half. He later earned a yellow card for the same antics.
LAFC had every intention of making the game ugly. They stalled and refused to play at the rhythm they did in the first half, frustrating Seattle and gambling with fate because Unkel just added all that wasted time after the 90 minute mark.
Albert Rusnák had Seattle’s final chance to equalize in the fourth minute of stoppage time when the Slovak hit a bullet toward goal but struck the crossbar, possibly with the help of a fingertip touch from Crépeau.
Crépeau was called into action in the 80th minute when he tipped Alex Roldán’s shot from outside the box over the bar.
Less than two minutes later, Seattle’s João Paulo hit a rocket across the Canadian’s goal that looked destined to pick out the top right corner before Crépeau soared across in time to make another highlight reel save.
Seattle had big a shout for a booking when Chiellini came around the back of Christian Roldán, taking down the American just outside the penalty area. The Italian did not make clear contact with the ball, and his body language read like he knew he got away with one. On another night, it would easily have been a yellow card. Sounders players were incensed and swarmed Unkel. It brought the crowd to life and spurned the Sounders’ attack, but Seattle could not find the goal they needed.
Crépeau had one of those performances that makes you wonder how much longer Milan Borjan can keep the No. 1 gloves for the CanMNT. The Quebec-native turned 29 this past spring and could very well be Canada’s starting goalkeeper when the 2026 World Cup kicks off in just two and a half years time. Who the head coach of the CanMNT will be then is the multi-million dollar question.
So, if there’s any consolation that Toronto FC fans can take from these MLS Cup Playoffs, at least the Seattle Sounders won’t win again. And, we have a Canadian to thank for that.