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Impact finally go local in agreeing with midfielder Bernier

MONTREAL – Finally, the Montreal Impact went local. The MLS expansion club on Monday announced the signing of Canadian international Patrice Bernier, a Quebec native and a former member of the Impact from 2000-02.

“I’m happy to be back in Montreal with the Impact,” the defensive midfielder said at a press conference on Monday. “It’s special to be here and be part of this exciting project, right from the start.”

The 32-year-old Bernier, originally from the Montreal suburb of Brossard, becomes the first local player to sign with the club for its inaugural MLS season. That’s a tag that may bring loads of pressure when the 2012 season begins, but Bernier says he’s focused more on what he can do on the pitch.

“I’ve played the last 10 years in Europe,” explained the veteran of the German, Norwegian and Danish leagues. “I know that I’m a local player, but, more importantly, I want to let my feet do the talking.”

Talks between both parties began in the summer, Bernier said Monday, but he admitted that serious discussions started with the Impact when head coach Jesse Marsch made the trip to Denmark to watch him play at Lyngby BK.

“I really appreciate the fact that he visited me,” Bernier said of his new boss. “We talked about what his plans were for next season, and I felt that I was an important player for him and for the team. After that, the negotiations progressed a bit more quickly.”

Bernier also admitted that he sought some sage wisdom from his peers before making his final decision. He contacted a trio of his Canada teammates based in MLS: Dwayne De Rosario, Julian de Guzman and Ante Jazic.

“Ante knows the league, and he also played with Jesse,” Bernier explained of his conversation with the Chivas USA defender, “and I was [able to get] a better idea of what I was getting into.”

That doesn’t mean Bernier will be an immediate slam dunk in his first season in MLS. Montreal sporting director Nick De Santis believes Bernier has matured by playing the past decade in Europe, but will still need a bit of time to adapt to the style of play in MLS.

“He is a very different player than he was 10 years ago,” De Santis explained. “It’s important for us that we bring stability and experience, on and off the field. We know that Patrice will wear the shirt with pride. We don’t question his commitment.”

Regardless, the team is thrilled to add a local product who can contribute immediately. Marsch says he’s pleased to have gained a player with experience for the Impact’s inaugural season, and is confident he can help him grow as a MLS player.

“He’s equipped with so many of the tools required to excel in this league,” said the first-year head coach and former holding midfielder. “Having played in the same position, I know I can make him better.”