Vancouver Whitecaps CEO Axel Schuster says a "very special personal situation" is behind a massive trade that sends Maxime Crepeau, the club's star goalkeeper, to divisional rival Los Angeles FC.
He did not elaborate on what the situation was, but Crepeau was not in Vancouver as the club began pre-season training this week and the Whitecaps said he was away for "personal reasons."
“It was big enough, serious enough that we understood we had to work on a solution together with him," Schuster said Thursday after the trade was announced.
“He had to leave Vancouver to solve this problem."
In a statement, Crepeau thanked the club for working with him to find a solution.
“Thank you to everyone for the wonderful messages you have shared with me, as this is personally the hardest decision I’ve had to make in my professional career," he said.
The deal will see LAFC send the Whitecaps US$1 million in general allocation money between 2022 and 2025 based on Crepeau's roster status. Vancouver also receives a first-round pick in the 2025 MLS SuperDraft and additional general allocation money if certain performance metrics are met. If Crepeau is transferred overseas, the Whitecaps will also retain a "significant" percentage of the transfer fee.
“We are thrilled to add a goalkeeper of Maxime’s quality to our roster,” LAFC's co-president and general manager John Thorrington said in a statement. “We consider Maxime to be one of the top goalkeepers in MLS. Like us, we know he is committed to winning, and his leadership and experience will contribute to our success on the field.”
The trade developed quite quickly in recent days, Schuster said.
“We got to a point (in negotiations) where we think the worth of Max got acknowledged and that leaves us now in the situation where we have a chance to do other things that we were planning to do," he said.
Crepeau has been among the 'Caps best players since coming to Vancouver from the then-Montreal Impact in December 2018
The 27-year-old from Greenfield Park, Que., played 26 games for the Whitecaps in 2021, stopping 75.8 per cent of the shots he faced and earning six clean sheets as the club clinched its first playoff spot in four years. He was named the club's player of the year.
“In the last year, he was obviously a key factor for our success. We had a few games where he saved us," Schuster said, noting that the goalkeeper was a calm, analytical presence through the ups and downs of a difficult campaign.
"We know how close the race was at the end, we know every point counts at the end. There are a lot of moments that I keep in mind where he had a huge impact to get to those points that brought us over the line to playoffs.”
Crepeau was held to four appearances the previous season after fracturing his left thumb during the MLS is Back tournament. A four-hour-long surgery was needed to remove the shattered pieces and insert wires to hold the bones together, but the 'keeper stayed with the team as they finished the campaign based out of Portland, Ore., due to pandemic border restrictions.
Crepeau has also become a dependable netminder for the Canadian men's team, making 14 appearances, including 13 starts, and collecting three clean sheets.
He's expected to be with the national squad next week when Canada faces Honduras in the latest round of World Cup qualifying.
The move to California could see Crepeau reunited with former Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos, who is rumoured to be taking a position with LAFC. The pair have known each other since Crepeau was 12 years old and part of the Montreal Impact academy.
Dos Santos was dismissed as Vancouver's coach in August midway through his third season with the team.
With Crepeau gone, the Whitecaps plan to lean on another Canadian 'keeper this season.
Thomas Hasal, 22, has acted as Crepeau's backup for the past three seasons and took over the starter's spot when Crepeau broke his thumb in 2020.
Hailing from Cambridge, Ont., the six-foot-four, 190-pound netminder has posted two clean sheets in 16 MLS appearances.
The 'Caps have "huge trust" in Hasal and no concerns about him taking over as No. 1, Schuster said.
“We feel very good with Thomas," he said. "Thomas has much more experience and games played than when Max arrived at this club.”
Vancouver also has veteran American 'keeper Evan Newton on its roster, accquiring him in January 2021 from Indy Eleven of the United Soccer League.
The club is looking into options to acquire another goalkeeper, too, Schuster said.
Schuster acknowledged that trading Crepeau created challenges, but said the move is for the best going forward.
"We think we have done the right thing in the long term," he said. "In the short term, definitely it creates problems for us. But we also like to get challenged.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2022.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press