MONTREAL – It just had to be him.
No, not Didier Drogba. The local kid.
Pride for the city of Montreal comes naturally to Impact captain Patrice Bernier. When the chance came to play in North America again after a decade spent in Europe, the Montreal Impact were his obvious choice, even though it was an expansion team with no guarantees in 2012.
Nearly four years later, Bernier scored the winning goal as Montreal eliminated archrivals Toronto FC, 3-0, in the Knockout Round of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs. They’re going to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
“It goes back to my youth,” Bernier told reporters postgame. “Everytime I’ve faced them, whether for a club, or with a [provincial] selection, when I’m playing Toronto, something extra comes up. Beating that team and that city is worth its weight in gold. I’m happy, but we’re moving on.”
Bernier could so easily have been watching from the sidelines on Thursday. The Knockout Round showdown with Toronto was merely his seventh start of the MLS season – four of those have now come under interim head coach Mauro Biello.
“The way that he’s approached this season has been unbelievable,” goalkeeper Evan Bush said. “For him to keep grinding – that’s the type of guy he is – and for him to have a performance like that, it’s unbelievable. I’m so happy for him.”
Bernier got his chance at a playoff start, and he took it. Part of a three-man midfield with Nigel Reo-Coker and Marco Donadel, Bernier took good care of the ball, completing over 86 percent of his passes.
And he drove forward with passion. His run for the opener was perfectly timed, with Ignacio Piatti only needing to delicately slip the ball into his path.
“When Nacho gets the ball, you never know what to expect,” Bernier said. “He creates so much space for himself, for the others. He gave me a pass, and I had to put it in, because you never know how many chances you’re going to get – especially me, I’m not in front of goal often.”
On the other side of the ball, Bernier was just as efficient. Looking back at the tape from Sunday’s 2-1 win over TFC in the regular season finale, head coach Biello was upset with how much time and space Benoît Cheyrou and Michael Bradley enjoyed in the first half. Bernier and Reo-Coker were tasked with managing them, with Donadel keeping an eye on the two forwards.
It worked. And it brought the best out of Bernier, the team, and Stade Saputo.
“Pure emotion,” Bernier said of his goal. “Everything comes out flying. This is home.”