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Soccer Keeper Maxime Crépeau helping lead Whitecaps turnaround

Crépeau spent years in background, honing his craft with the Impact and the United Soccer League’s Ottawa Fury FC.

BEN NELMS/The Canadian Press

Vancouver Whitecaps goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau doesn’t want to be labelled a leader.

Instead, he wants his teammates to see him as “a brother on the field,” who will fight for them and have their backs. Crépeau, who was named to Major League Soccer’s team of the week on Monday, says the group can only succeed as a whole.

“My name is maybe there but it’s the whole team at the end of the day,” the keeper said. “We all saw [Saturday’s] game and it’s a team effort. It’s not just me.”

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Through 10 starts this season, Crépeau has been a solid backbone for the Whitecaps (3-5-3), posting three clean sheets and helping the team turn around a dismal start to the year.

The emergence of the 25-year-old native of Greenfield Park, Que., doesn’t come as a surprise to Vancouver coach Marc Dos Santos, who first invited Crépeau to a training session with the Montreal Impact a decade ago.

“He already had a lot of potential at the youth level,” the coach said after training on Monday.

But Crépeau spent years in background, honing his craft with the Impact and the United Soccer League’s Ottawa Fury FC. Signing with the Whitecaps in December provided a chance to show he could be a starting netminder in MLS.

“I don’t think that Max is very different than any other goalkeepers, in that every other goalkeeper is like a coach – he needs an opportunity,” Dos Santos said.

“Max was waiting for his opportunity, he knew that he was ready to play at this level. He was given the opportunity by the Whitecaps and he’s answering well right now.”

Defender Doneil Henry, who’s been playing with Crépeau at the national level since they were around 17 years old, calls the goalkeeper a humble but confident guy who’s always ready when he’s called upon to make a save.

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“This is Max. I’ve seen what he can do,” Henry said. “I know his qualities. Like [Dos Santos] said before, he just needed an opportunity. And he’s taking full advantage of it right now.”

Strong defensive performances from Crépeau, Henry and the rest of the Whitecaps’ back end have been key to the team’s recent success.

After starting the year on a three-game losing skid, the squad has taken points from five of its past six contests and allowed just five goals across the stretch.

But there’s a lot more to be done, Crépeau said.

“Yes, [our work is] paying out right now, but we didn’t achieve anything,” he said. “We’re still in the eighth position right now. So now it’s about getting above that [playoff] line and maintaining it.”

The Whitecaps beat the Portland Timbers 1-0 last Saturday and head into a Wednesday matchup with Atlanta United FC (5-3-2) riding a two-game win streak.

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Continuing the run of form against Atlanta will be difficult. Despite a slow start to the season, the MLS Cup champions have found their game in recent weeks and have won their past four, all with clean sheets. Offensively, Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco have been heating up with four goals each.

“We’re ready for the task,” Henry said. “We don’t look at one individual. They have four or five guys up front who can make a difference. And we always defend as a unit. Seeing the results that we got [last week], it took 11 players and guys who came off the bench to make the difference.”

Atlanta United (5-3-2) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (3-5-3)

Wednesday, B.C. Place

BUSY STRETCH: Both the Whitecaps and United are in the midst of a packed schedule. Vancouver will play their second of three games in eight days on Wednesday, after chalking up a win against Portland on Saturday. Atlanta beat Orlando City SC on last weekend and will head to New York to face the Red Bulls after playing the Whitecaps on Wednesday.

TRIPLE THREAT: Three Vancouver players were named to the MLS team of the week after the Portland win. Crépeau and Henry were both placed on the bench, while Fredy Montero was given the starting striker role.

MISSING PIECE: The ‘Caps will be without Spanish midfielder Jon Erice. The 32-year-old injured his left ankle in training on Monday and has been ruled out for Wednesday’s contest. Erice has worn the captain’s armband in 10 game starts for Vancouver this year.

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