Impact’s Crepeau aims to move up depth chart

Montreal Impact goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

MONTREAL—If there’s one item missing from Maxime Crepeau’s resume that he desperately wants to add, it’s a first career start with the Montreal Impact in Major League Soccer.

Could this be the season the Impact’s third-string goalkeeper finally gets his chance? That’s still to be determined. But if there were doubts as to whether or not the 21-year-old was capable of defending Montreal’s goal in MLS, he certainly made a strong case for himself last Friday in Carson, California, where he was given a surprise start—his first for his country—by coach Benito Floro in Canada’s 1-0 friendly loss to the United States.

Crepeau made a host of important saves, keeping Canada within reach of an improbable victory much longer than it deserved, before Jozy Altidore’s leaping header in the final minute of regulation sunk the Reds.

It was a night that Crepeau hopes will help persuade the Impact in giving him his first shot in MLS.

“I told the club last year that I wanted to be second goalkeeper and I wanted to get minutes with the first team; the message is the same this year,” Crepeau told reporters earlier this week.

“I was happy with the game because it was an opportunity to show my ability against the U.S. team whose starting 11 was mostly made up of MLS players and good ones, too. So I think I’d be ready to perform when called upon. That’s my objective. I want to prove that I can get minutes here.”

Long-time teammate and Impact defender Wandrille Lefevre, who also started the game for Canada against the U.S., wasn’t surprised by Crepeau’s solid performance against the Americans.

“I’ve known him for five, six years now and I know what he’s capable of,” Lefevre said. “The only unknown is that it was his first international game, but I think he handled himself really well. They took a lot of shots from distance where there was the possibility of him giving away rebounds but he didn’t give anything away and that was fabulous.

“For sure he’s ready to play in MLS. The role that he’s given, that’s not up to me. I’m not the coach. Everyone has their opinion. My opinion is that he’s ready, but then you have three goalkeepers and the choices for the coach aren’t easy, but for sure he’s a guy we can count on.”

Impact goalkeeper coach Youssef Dahha, who knows Crepeau’s game better than anyone having coached him since the age of 13, was proud of the young goalkeeper’s display but says he still needs more time to develop.

“We never doubted Maxime; he’s with the pros; he's someone who thinks a lot about the game and when he’s here he battles for a place like everyone else,” Dahha said. “But he has to keep working because one game isn’t a season. The season is long and you can’t skip steps. We have a project; we have a program together; we’ll get there surely but it’s not a sprint. It’s only the beginning.”

A native of Greenfield Park, Quebec, Crepeau signed with the Impact in 2013 after spending three years with the club’s youth academy. Internationally, the six-foot, 199-pound shot-stopper has represented Canada at every level, quickly establishing himself as one of the country’s brightest prospects. And Friday’s standout performance against the U.S. confirmed his potential.

Third in the Impact’s goalkeeping pecking order, Crepeau spent last season with Montreal’s reserve team (FC Montreal) in the USL while No. 1 Evan Bush and veteran backup Eric Kronberg split first team duties in MLS, the Canadian Championship and the CONCACAF Champions League.

Though Crepeau hopes he can surpass Kronberg as the Impact’s backup and be the one to fill in for Bush when needed, Dahha insists that in this case being third is better than being second.

“For me we have to stop talking about number two,” Dahha stated. “Number two is not a spot. I’d prefer being third and playing games (in the USL) than being second and spending every first team game on the bench; especially now that he’s being called to the national team, he needs games to help him prepare.

“If you tell me he’s going to compete for the number one position, then were talking, but number two is not a goalkeeper. Number two is for a goalie that’s at the end of his career, but Maxime needs to play a lot.”

Manager Mauro Biello, who’s now in his first full season in charge of the Impact after taking over on an interim basis last fall, will have the final say.

As of right now, the matter is still up in the air.

“Maxime will continue to grow and battle for minutes,” Biello said. “You also have Kronberg who did well last year as well and both have worked very hard and we’ll see in the next few months who will get playing time.”

Nick Sabetti is a Montreal-based writer. Follow him on Twitter