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Can Maxime Crépeau be a Starter in MLS?

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The Vancouver Whitecaps have two new keepers, including one Canadian. The question now becomes, can the Canadian Crepeau be a starter in MLS?

MLS: Montreal Impact at New York Red Bulls Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Whitecaps have signed two new goalkeepers. Across the land people have been wondering what to make of it. Some people are livid that the Whitecaps have signed two keepers who weren’t MLS starters. Some people are cautiously optimistic. I have not been able to weigh in due to being otherwise engaged with exams (did you know that the Russian navy once accidentally severed the main line of communication between France and North Africa whilst on their way to fight the Japanese?). But, at last I am now free and, like Moses in the old testament, I have come down from the mountain with great wisdom to share with my people. Except instead of 10 commandments my stone tablets have a bunch of stats and percentages on them. So let us answer the age old question; Can Maxime Crépeau be a #1 goalkeeper in MLS!?

But First a Word on Zac MacMath

Okay, the Whitecaps also got Zac MacMath, but he’s so boring. I don’t mean this in a bad way, he’s just kind of fine. Apart from his rookie season, in which he struggled a little bit, his expected goals against and his actual goals against have almost always perfectly matched up. This means he does basically as well as you’d expect the average goalkeeper to, based on the difficulty of the shots he’s facing. He was a backup in 2018, but having the backup be DP Tim Howard would have been kind of a bad look, so MacMath was relegated to the bench mostly for marketing purposes. If you’re a team that’s planning to put most of your money and international spots into the starting XI and just need somebody boringly competent and inexpensive in goal then Zac MacMath is your man. There’s nothing wrong with this but it makes the question “can Zac MacMath be a #1 in MLS” a boring one because the answer is “yes, obviously, it’ll be fine.” Maxime Crépeau on the other hand is much more interesting as there’s an element of mystery to him.

Is Crépeau Better Than Rowe and Marinovic?

Direct comparisons are hard as Crépeau was playing in USL last year. As such you’d expect his numbers to come down a bit when making the jump. That being said, from a statistical point of view, Crépeau’s 2018 season blew Marinovic and Rowe out of the water. First, Crépeau set a USL record for shutouts with 15 while Marinovic and Rowe collectively had two. Was this discrepancy because of the talent in front of the keepers? Possibly, but it is worth noting that both Ottawa Fury and Vancouver Whitecaps were two places out of a playoff spot. Back to the stats! Crépeau had a save percentage of .726 while Rowe and Marinovic both put up a .580 respectively. In MLS, starting goalkeepers tend to be somewhere in between .650 and .750. USL does not track expected goals against but Marinovic and Rowe were second and sixth from the bottom respectively in MLS. This means that they let in more goals than you would expect the average keeper to based on the difficulty of the shots they faced. Thus, it would be legitimately impressive if Crépeau managed to be worse than Marinovic and Rowe were in 2018.

But Can He Actually be a Good #1 in MLS?

Crépeau is in all likelihood an improvement on what the ‘Caps had in 2018. But the goalkeeping was, like, really bad in 2018. So can Crépeau rise above terribleness into the realms of competence or even stardom? Well, as I said earlier, knowing how USL success will translate to MLS is difficult. However Crépeau can be compared to his USL colleagues. I have selected a sample of interesting USL goalkeepers to compare Crépeau against. Included in the sample are

Fabián Cerda: Led the league in total saves

Matt Pickens: Played 9 seasons in MLS and had a brief stint in Europe with Queens Park Rangers.

Greg Ranjitsingh: Goalkeeper for USL champions Louisville City.

Kyle Reynish: Goalkeeper for Whitecaps’ 2018 USL affiliate Fresno F.C. Held Sean Melvin to 0 appearances so he must be pretty good right? RIGHT!?!

Evan Newton: USL golden glove winner.

Romuald Peiser: Signed by Marc Dos Santos on two different teams and thus is a good model for the type of keeper he’s looking for.

Spencer Richey: There was some thought he might be the Whitecap’s #1 goalkeeper in 2019, may still be the starter for Cincinnati.

Shot Stopping:

In this sample, Crépeau’s save percentage of .726 ranks 4th. The top of the list is Evan Newton with .778 and the worst is Romuald Peiser at .614. The average of this sample is .704.

Crépeau was the only keeper in the sample to stop two penalties

Distribution:

Crépeau’s pass completion ratio of 51.4% ranks 5th. The top of the list is Fabián Cerba with a ratio of 62.4%. The bottom of the list is Matt Pickens with a ratio of 49.2%. The average of the sample is 57.2%.

Crépeau’s long pass completion ratio of 45.5% ranks 1st. The lowest in the sample is Romuald Peiser with a ratio of 33.3%. the average of the sample is 38%.

Command of the 18 Yard Box:

In this section each goalkeeper will be awarded points on the following basis:

Catch: 2 points; Punch: 1 point; Drop -1 point

This ranks the goalkeepers as follows:

18 Yard Box Command

Keeper Catches Punches Drops Total Points
Keeper Catches Punches Drops Total Points
Ranjitsingh 41 16 6 92
Crépeau 24 9 2 55
Pickens 12 20 2 42
Cerda 15 15 4 42
Newton 6 14 0 26
Peiser 3 20 0 26
Richey 5 7 0 17
Reynish 5 4 0 14

Takeaways:

Crépeau was not totally dominant in all fields but was generally above average. Keep in mind that bad goalkeepers are more or less selected out of this sample. Where Crépeau shines is his ability to command his penalty area specifically in catching the ball and neutralizing the threat. Marinovic and Rowe both got into trouble in 2018 through punching the ball back into dangerous areas so a keeper who is better at catching the ball could be a big help. Crépeau also does very well at distributing the ball long but curiously his overall passing average is rather low. I suspect that this might be due to Ottawa’s manager instructing him to play more directly.

But Are Stats Bullshit?

When it comes to goalkeepers, kind of. Goalkeepers are very hard to analyze statistically. Save percentage works well enough in hockey but in soccer the nets are a lot bigger and the sample sizes are a lot smaller. If you concede three wonder goals on four shots you’ve got yourself a save percentage of .250. This is not an uncommon situation for goalkeepers in soccer. In Hockey, goalies face enough shots that things all average out but that’s not really the case in soccer. Evan Bush, who led MLS in saves, only faced 184 shots. So save percentage can be useful but it isn’t perfect.

Analysis Evolved’s xGA stat is better as it makes an effort to take into account the difficulty of shots being faced. However it isn’t perfect either. xGA punishes conceding improbable goals. This means that conceding goals from distance is punished by the metric because the probability of those shots going in is low. For a real life example let us look at Eric Hassli’s famous wonder goal against the Seattle Sounders in 2011. That goal was certainly improbable but it would be rather unfair to suggest that because it was improbable Kasey Keller should have stopped it. The Whitecaps inability to defend at the top of the box in 2018 was well documented so the xGA metric is very unkind to Rowe and Marinovic. Their bad numbers can’t be attributed entirely to that but it probably does make them look a bit worse than they actually were.

although stats aren’t perfect I still believe they’re important. Humans, weather we know it or not, are very biased. Of the top of my head there are a couple of factors with will bias me in Stefan Marinovic’s favour. He’s a goalkeeper (the position I play) for the team i’ve supported since I was a small boy. In all of his interviews and videos he’s done for the team he comes across as very charming. I want him to be good but the numbers just don’t support that. So while stats are not perfect I think they should be an important part of a holistic evaluation of a player.

Okay Smart Guy, What is Your Holistic Evaluation of Crépeau:

Crépeau is a good shot stopper who also does quite well at commanding his penalty area. In the past he’s looked a little nervy to me, though his talent was always obvious. In 2018 he seemed to take real steps in terms of confidence under the tutelage of new Whitecaps goalkeeper coach Dahha Youssef. He was a little unfortunate to not get his chance at Montreal as he was stuck between Evan Bush who still has 3-4 good years left and talented youngster James Pantemis. He did very well in USL and I think that should translate into getting a chance in MLS more often. There have been some concerns that his 5’11 frame is to small. Firstly I would like to ask; What Übermensch race are you guys living among? 5’11 is not that short. But goalkeepers are usually a bit taller so maybe these concerns aren’t totally unfounded. Well 5’8 Nick Rimando is an MLS legend and 6’7 Eirik Johansenn was a total tire fire. So height probably helps goalkeepers but it is not totally predictive of quality.

Can Maxime Crépeau be a #1 in MLS? Maybe. I wouldn’t bet my life savings on it but I wouldn’t bet against it either. If I were forced to choose i’d say his chances of success are slightly higher than his chances of failure. The battle for the #1 shirt in preseason is certainly going to be interesting.