Rollercoaster is a word that comes to mind to describe the goalkeeper situation for Whitecaps FC in 2020.
It was a year that saw six keepers figure in the matchday roster, two season-ending injuries, a coming-out party, a one-day rental, and a savvy late-season acquisition.
On Sunday, the ‘Caps made one more roster move to their keeper corps, trading Evan Bush to Columbus Crew SC after a successful stint with Vancouver to guide them through the end of the regular season.
Youssef Dahha is currently entering 2021 three-deep in the position – Maxime Crepeau and Thomas Hasal, both of whom have delivered for their goalkeeper coach in high-stress situations, as well as 19-year old prospect Isaac Boehmer. As confirmed at the end of November, experienced goalkeeper Bryan Meredith is out of contract and will be available for MLS Free Agency, which opens on Wednesday.
DECISIONS, DECISIONS, DECISIONS
With two bright options for the starting role available, VWFC CEO and sporting director Axel Schuster, as well as head coach Marc Dos Santos, have been clear that they entrust Dahha to lead the group’s selection for the number one spot going into next season.
“It is an open race. Both Max and Thomas showed excellent performances with our team this past year. This race will start with the first day of training and Youssef will lead the decision,” says Schuster.
“The competition is good, because now they fight for the position,” says Dahha. “The competition is good for us, it's good for Maxime because now he will be getting pressure from Thomas.”
If you ask Dahha, Crepeau has pole position with Hasal having every chance to snatch it.
“For me, Maxime Crepeau is number one. He has a lot experience, he plays on his feet very well, he is mature,” explains Dahha. “But Thomas has shown a lot. For Thomas, if he wants to play and become the number one, he needs to push Maxime very hard.”
Besides the position battle, Schuster realizes that there may be more moves to make to ensure that each player on the roster continues their development.
“As soon as the decision is made, we will look at what that means for each player. Thomas Hasal at this age cannot sit on the bench for the season. If he will not be the starter, then we have to look at what kind of other competition he can play to grow and to develop,” says Schuster.
COMING BACK STRONG
“He’s really hungry. He’s around 70% to 80% so he’s still working his way back,” says Dahha about Crepeau, who had surgery on his fractured left thumb in July. “Having Max join us in Portland was helpful for both himself and the team. He had access to the trainers and the therapists, and his presence in the room was valuable. It was psychologically important for him to see the field and touch the ball.”
While Hasal is still on the mend as well after being sidelined with a left tibia stress fracture and concussion in September, Dahha is confident that the 21-year old Homegrown product can regain the quality and poise he showed when he was inserted into the lineup over the summer.
“He showed what he is capable of because he played in pressure-packed games with us needing results. Against Chicago and Kansas City, these games were very tough and he did very well,” said Dahha. “Thomas has been a surprise to others but he is no surprise for me. I believed in him when I saw him the first day I arrived in Vancouver.”
TRUE NORTH STRONG IN THREES
Rounding out the Canadian trio of keepers is Boehmer, an Okanagan product who signed an MLS contract in August after moving up through the ‘Caps BMO Academy system.
“Just like Thomas, Isaac has a lot of quality. He has grown a lot with us because he wants to learn, he’s now a professional. He learned a lot being around every day, on the field and in the dressing room,” said Dahha. “He’s still young so we’re taking it step by step, maybe in two to four years, he will be a very good goalie.”
It’s not lost in Dahha that the three keepers are all Canadians, and he relishes this opportunity to help mold players who could very well figure prominently with the national team.
“We’re also preparing them for the national team. Isaac with the U-20, Thomas with the Olympic team and Maxime with the first team,” says Dahha. “Remember this – in 2026, Thomas and Maxime will both be on the national team and fighting for number one in the World Cup.”