Every preseason training camp gives the impression of a new dawn. Players meet their new teammates – and have them pick a dinner bill or two – old companions exchange stories and, from time to time, a new coach comes in and modifies the style of play to which everyone was accustomed.
But once in the history of every club, there are no habits, no familiar faces, no solid footing. That’s when true character is revealed, and 32-year-old Patrice Bernier intends to display such spirit during the expansion Montreal Impact’s first MLS preseason.
After eight seasons in Europe, the Canadian international midfielder felt it was time to make his long-awaited return to his home country, particularly once Jesse Marsch – the new head coach of the club he left in 2002 – visited him in Denmark. A former MLS midfielder himself, Marsch told Bernier he could play an important role in his team and, after lengthy negotiations, a deal was made.
“I'd always said I would love to come back and play for Montreal if the situation was appropriate, if I was a right fit,” Bernier told MLSsoccer.com in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Tuesday after his side’s 1-0 preseason victory against Estudiantes Tecos. “Now, with my experience, I can help the club build strong foundations for the future.”
Montreal fans were overjoyed with the news, as they see local native Bernier as one of their own. He often attended Impact games when he was in town over the past decade, at one point supporting the team from the Ultras Montréal section of Saputo Stadium.
As the lone Montreal-born signing on this roster – others are currently on trial with the club – he is widely expected to become the face of the franchise, and Marsch even suggested he could become its first captain. But the Impact's No. 8 isn’t worried about pressure being heaped on because of his connection with the city and region.
“I wouldn’t say it gives me more responsibilities,” Bernier said, “but I do feel I’m somewhat representing Montreal and Québécois soccer in a way. I don’t feel extra pressure, but it’s nice if people see me that way.”
Described by Impact sporting director Nick De Santis as one of the finest players in Quebec history, Bernier nonetheless has to re-discover the North American game, which has evolved a great deal since his departure for Europe. The good news is his new club is making sure this change of scenery is a pleasant one.
“The way the organization is set up is similar to what you can be a part of in Europe,” Bernier said. “The staff, the way we are treated as players, the way we train, it’s very high quality. What changes is the style of players you encounter.”
New teammates, a new coach and a new style are a lot to adapt to, but Bernier is focused and ready for a challenge. As he gets in shape and bonds with his colleagues in Mexico, Montreal’s favorite soccer son is optimistic about year No. 1 of the Impact, but he's also aware of the reality of an expansion team.
“There’s a lot of buzz, and people are interested in discovering the premier soccer league in North America,” he explained. “People are eager to see what kind of product we’ll offer them, but their expectations have to be realistic. We won’t be playing NASL teams. We’re a brand new franchise and patience will be needed, but our preseason efforts shall lead us to a great new beginning.”