MONTREAL â€” Patrice Bernier’s pro soccer career started with the Montreal Impact in 2000 and it will end with the same club after the 2017 season.
The native of Brossard, Que., a young star in the defunct A-League in the early 2000s who later played nine years in Europe, signed a deal Monday to compete one final season with the Impact before joining the club’s academy as a coach next year.
Bernier, the team captain, has been a stalwart on and off the field since returning to the Impact when the club joined Major League Soccer in 2012.
“It’s a special year because it’s my last,” said Bernier, who will turn 38 on Sept. 23. “It’s been my aim for a while to finish when I was 38 and this contract lets me end my career here.”
The five-foot-10 midfielder is one of the best players ever to come out of Quebec. Despite his age, he ended last season in the team’s starting 11 as it surged to the Eastern Conference final.
“He’ll always have a place on our club,” said team owner Joey Saputo. “He’s an example for all our young players to follow on and off the field and for that reason he is an important element on our team and in our future development.”
Bernier has certainly had a remarkable career.
As a teenager, the son of local soccer star Jean Bernier also played hockey. He was good enough to skate two years for Val d’Or of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where his teammates included Roberto Luongo and Steve Begin.
Accepting that he wasn’t big enough to make it as an NHL defenceman, he put his full effort into soccer and became a key player for every team he joined. In 2010, he was named team MVP of Nordsjaelland in Denmark and got the same award for the Impact in 2012.
He has also played 53 games for Canada.
Back in Montreal, he made his mark off the field by promoting soccer, gaining endorsements from local businesses and working for a charity that supports children’s hospitals and for the Maison d’Haiti, which helps immigrants from his father’s native country.
It has not always gone smoothly. In his first MLS season, he felt humiliated when coach Jesse Marsch left him out of the lineup for the Impact’s first home game at Olympic Stadium. And in 2015, he left the team for a few days after his wife went on social media to blast then-coach Frank Klopas’ “unacceptable and disrespectful” treatment of her husband by leaving him out of the lineup.
“I’ve learned through my career that you see players go through certain situations,” said Bernier. “You’ve got to be committed to what you know you’re capable of doing on the field and then let the coaches make the decisons.
“The biggest thing is that I believe in myself.”
Injuries late in the season put Bernier back in the starting lineup and he seized the chance to show he can still play as the club rallied to keep it’s playoff position and then knocked off D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls before falling to Toronto FC in overtime of the conference final.
Although striker Didier Drogba is gone, the Impact has kept it’s starting 11 from the playoffs intact for 2017. The only major addition will likely come when Swiss international midfielder Blerim Dzemaili joins from Bologna FC in June.
“You see the work that was put in and the talent we have and that’s another reason I wanted to play one more year,” said Bernier. “I see the team has the potential to go to the top.”
He also sees that he no longer has to carry the torch for Quebec players. There are younger ones coming up through the team’s academy nearly ready to take his place.
Saputo said Bernier will provide a key presence in the academy helping to develop local talent. The owner’s wish is that one day there will be a nucleus of locally developed players in the starting 11, much as there was in the 18 years before they joined MLS.
Former Impact players now in coaching or in management positions include coach Mauro Biello and his assistant Jason Di Tullio, technical director Adam Braz, vice president Nick de Santis and academy coach Eduardo Sebrango.
Saputo denied reports that star midfielder Ignacio Piatti would return to Argentina. He said Piatti is signed through the next 18 months and that the club will consider trying to extend that deal.
The Impact also hope to sign forward Matteo Mancosu when his one-year loan from Bologna expires in June.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press