MONTREAL – Patrick Leduc sits down to watch a Reserve League game at Stade Saputo. He’s barely in his seat when a mischievous reporter turns to the national team manager and asks, “So, Leduc, what if you could call up Patrice Bernier?”
Leduc keeps mum. But the grin says it all.
For now, Leduc can’t consider this attractive scenario, in part because he’s not coaching the Canada team for whom Bernier is still eligible (that's Leduc above left, with Dwayne De Rosario and Bernier during the 2005 CONCACAF Gold Cup). Leduc, a Montreal Impact midfielder for 11 seasons, is the player-manager of the newborn Quebec national soccer team.
After an initial, unsuccessful attempt by Yannick Saint-Germain, the project's driving force, to get a Quebec side together for the 2012 VIVA World Cup for non-FIFA teams, Les Québécois will enter their maiden tournament on Sunday when they face Western Sahara in Marseille, France, at the 2013 International Peoples, Cultures and Tribes Tournament.
Of course, Bernier won’t be around for that match. Current Impact players are out of reach, but the Impact’s midfield general says he would if he could.
“I told [Leduc] that, if I had no obligations – I obviously wouldn’t be allowed to enter unofficial games for a national team that’s not really one – I’d play for sure,” Bernier told MLSsoccer.com. “Why not? For me, it’s not so much about the tournament than about young players who aren’t in the [Canadian] national team’s sights getting a chance to enter a tournament.
“Those other countries only wish they were independent, but it’s great when you can measure yourself against other countries. Some opponents play in Europe. I’d have gone with them to play, help and bring my experience to the table.”
The 19 players who do make the journey face a punishing schedule. They also play Tibet on June 24 – Quebec’s National Holiday – and host Provence the next day. But they are not entering what is arguably the Group of Death at the eight-team tournament with short-term, results-oriented goals.
“We’re looking to establish solid foundations and a good name so we’re better known and we can repeat, whether it’s for the team to go there next year or to get involved before that if an opportunity arises,” Leduc (at right, in 2008 with the Impact) told MLSsoccer.com.
“The reason our outlook is not short term is we don’t know much about our opponents. It’ll be easier to evaluate them when we get there, play our first games and watch theirs.”
Those other teams won’t be Beer League caliber, the coach warned his players, who unfortunately won’t have much time to train together. Leduc scouted them himself and called up, among others, various players from the Première ligue de soccer du Québec and former Montreal Impact players Reda Agourram, Kevin Cossette and Alex Surprenant.
MLSsoccer.com has also learned that French center back Cédric Joqueviel, who played CONCACAF Champions League soccer with Montreal in 2008-09, will be unveiled as a special guest player for Les Québécois.
Reuniting in Marseille would have also brought closure to Bernier and Leduc. They were teammates in the junior ranks and at the Impact from 2000 to 2002, after which Bernier left for Europe. Bernier nevertheless says that he dreams of capping his career with one last journey with the mates he grew up playing with.
Should Leduc’s long-term objectives come to fruition, Bernier might get a chance.
“I wish we’d get so much press that MLS would come and talk to us,” Leduc says with a laugh. “My idea for our [provincial] federation, which organizes the semi-professional league in Quebec, would be for the Quebec team to be an All-Star team for that league. They’re easier to get hold of than MLS players, and there aren't a lot of Quebecers in MLS.
“This being said, if MLS were interested in organizing a Regions Tournament with its players involved, I’d be up for it.”
Once more, the grin said it all.