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Crepeau, Miller lead 'cultural reset' as CanMNT looks to qualify for Copa América


Mauro Biello decided to make a change.

After Canada’s shock defeat to Jamaica last November, Canada’s interim head coach chose a Canadian squad for Saturday’s Copa América playoff against Trinidad and Tobago without many of the veteran players who led the country to the 2022 World Cup.

Biello told the media Canada needed a “cultural reset.” So now the men’s team begins a new era without regular internationals like midfielder Junior Hoilett, defender Steven Vitoria, and goalkeeper Milan Borjan. Combined, those three have 188 internationals appearances.

Hoilett’s absence is felt perhaps more from the bench – at this stage in his career Hoilett provided more impact as a substitute than as a regular starter. Borjan and Vitoria’s absence mean Biello is beginning a big transition at goalkeeper and central defence that many expected would eventually happen.

Since qualifying for the 2022 World Cup with Concacaf’s best defence, the country’s backline has not gone from strength to strength. In its last four international matches combined, Canada has conceded 10 goals.

Now the country will apparently go into a critical juncture in its preparation for the 2026 World Cup with Maxime Crépeau as its starting goalkeeper and Kamal Miller as its primary central defence. 

And both are eager to accept increased responsibility.

“That is my personal objective -- to fit in that 18-yard box for the country and then to stay there,” Crépeau told TSN this week.

“This is something that I’ve wanted for a long time in terms of (more) responsibility,” Miller said.

Although Crépeau and Miller might be experiencing heightened expectations individually, their existing strong bond as club teammates with the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer could help them succeed together as the anchors of Canada’s defence.

“We’re neighbours in Portland, literally a street away from each other -- the relationship is very strong,” Miller said.

“Both of us knowing that we have that guy behind us or in front of us to bail (the other out), and that the communication is concise and effective.”

Crépeau feels the connection now goes beyond verbal cues: “I think I can close my eyes, pick a pass and I know where he [Miller] is, and vice versa.”

Some of that connection is rooted in their individual aggressiveness; both Crépeau and Miller rarely shy away from challenging opposing attackers.

Miller is known for his strong tackling, while Crépeau rarely pulls up when charging at any opposition that comes close to his penalty box. Although he spent 10 months recovering from a shattered leg he suffered intercepting Philadelphia forward Cory Burke in extra time of the 2022 MLS Cup, Crépeau still does not hesitant to use his body to disrupt any attack.

“It’s definitely not a myth that when your goalkeeper has that confidence [to put their body on the line] it does transfer to the guys in front of you,” Crépeau said.

Miller agrees: “I love being the guy back there with the weight on my shoulders and the responsibility to make a big play or lead the team in the right direction.”

The spine of Canada’s defence is still perceived to be the country’s weakness, so Crépeau and Miller will need strong actions to back up their strong intentions. But their self-belief isn’t simply good self talk, it’s bolstered by the confidence of the men whose international jobs they’re apparently taking over.

In the week after Biello made his roster changes, both Borjan and Vitoria connected with their successors. Even if they’re not wearing Canadian jerseys at this point, it was still important for them both to lead.

“It’s being myself, because every guy and every goalkeeper has their own personality and characteristics,” Crépeau said of the text messages he received from Borjan in the days leading up to Canada’s Copa América playoff.

“For me, it's stepping into the role that Milan had for this team -- he was an anchor at some key and important moments for us throughout the last years. I’m going to be the best version of myself for the country – that’s what I’m aiming for.”

“He [Vitoria] sent me a nice message saying that it’s my time,” Miller said. 

“He always let me know that my time is coming and that he’s not going to be here forever and he has full trust in me and belief in me.”

But in the pressure moments to come – Saturday's Copa América playoff, then a June international against the Netherlands, and then potentially the opening game of Copa América against World Cup champions Argentina – Crépeau and Miller will only have each other back near Canada’s goal line.

But it’s precisely for that reason – having only to rely on their connection and their decisions – the Crépeau and Miller will never hesitant to make a play.

“We know that each other’s voice will never lead us in the wrong direction,” Miller said.

“And overall, we just want the best for each other, especially right in the heart of the defence, and hopefully we can guide the team and lead us in the right direction.”