MONTREAL – When Patrice Bernier picks up the ball and carefully places it on the spot ahead of an Impact penalty kick, his brain goes back to his childhood – specifically, his father’s lessons about how to keep a cool head from 12 yards.
This might explain why the 32-year-old is a perfect six-for-six – or even eight-for-six, some would say, with the two conversions that were called back against the New England Revolution in July – from the spot this season. However, it doesn’t shed light on the reasons why Montreal are getting so many such opportunities – they lead the league with nine penalty kick goals this season. San Jose are second with only four.
GOAL: Bernier converts from the spot vs. DC
“I’ve got two theories,” Bernier said. “It could be the refereeing, or it could be that defenders in the box are not playing impeccably.”
These days, the Impact love testing the composure of defenders. Comparing the penalty calls they drew before the switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation to those they drew afterwards reveals that only one of the first four penalties rewarded to the Impact were the result of a combination play in the middle of the field – when Sporting Kansas City’s Aurélien Collin brought Lamar Neagle down after a clever dribble in May.
Since head coach Jesse Marsch switched his tactics, three out of five penalty kicks were called because of such plays.
“When we get into the area, the ball’s at our feet,” Bernier said. “We try combination plays, and when you’re moving around, it takes half a second for a defender’s foot to block and trip you. For a lot of other teams, it’s about corners, crosses, physical duels. We’re more about combinations and movement.”
Simply put, Montreal enjoy playing through the middle more, and it serves them well. They don’t shy away from keeping the ball, keeping the opposition guessing and varying the tempo before going all in.
But most importantly, they just like to keep the game alive.
“I think we’re one of those teams that don’t rely on set plays that much, and we want to make open play count,” Bernier said. “We get into the box often, and when you’re there a lot, penalty kicks happen more.”