MONTREAL – Patrice Bernier would have preferred his last game to be a footnote rather than the headline.
Bernier will play the final match of his lengthy career on Sunday when the Montreal Impact host the New England Revolution at Stade Saputo (4 pm ET; TVA Sports, TSN5 in Canada | MLS LIVE in the US). The 38-year-old midfielder had hoped the Impact would be gearing up for a return to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs rather than closing out the season on Decision Day presented by AT&T, but Montreal fell well short in their bid to match the magic of their 2016 postseason run.
Instead of a potential shot at MLS Cup, Bernier’s career will be celebrated before, during and after Montreal’s season finale.
“I don’t want it to be some nostalgic moment,” Bernier said after practice Thursday. “I know everybody knows it, but I always perform and I want to finish off when I still know I’m able to perform, and I want to show that. And I want the team to show that, yeah, we didn’t do so well, but at least our last image will be that we are a quality team.”
A Montreal native, Bernier left Denmark to return to the Impact ahead of their inaugural MLS season in 2012. He’s been the hometown face of the club through their first six MLS campaigns, recording 150 regular season appearances, 111 starts, 14 goals and 25 assists. He was instrumental in Montreal’s runs in the 2015 and 2016 playoffs, recording two goals and an assist in eight total postseason appearances.
It’s hard to imagine the MLS Impact without Bernier, but he said the decision to leave behind his European career was hardly a no-brainer. Returning to Canada ultimately gave him an appreciation of how much the North American soccer landscape had changed since he left home to pursue his European career in Norway in 2003.
“It’s been great,” Bernier said. "I came home and then you realize you’re playing with players you watched on TV. It doesn’t matter what time of their career they were coming in, those guys are still legendary. So it shows how much everything soccer has grown from a North American point of view, where before everyone was going across the Atlantic, and now Europe was coming here. I was playing in front of 20,000 people, with guys who had legendary status and legendary careers, Didier Drogba, Alessandro Nesta, and then you play against Thierry Henry and David Beckham.
“So at the end of the day, when I came back I realized soccer went 360 because I left to go play where prestigious soccer at the highest levels, and then I came back and those players that you watched winning Champions League and World Cups were now in your hometown playing for your home club and you’re on the same team and you get to live the experiences and talk with people that have lived the highest level of football.”
Bernier kept faith in his abilities during a personally tough 2015 season when he was shunted aside by coach Frank Klopas. After Klopas was fired in August, Mauro Biello took over as interim coach and leaned on Bernier to steady the team, a move that helped the Impact reach the playoffs each of the past two seasons.
“I thought Pat could play an important role, whether he was off the bench or whether he started, and I then when I gave him the opportunity to start he performed, and I think it went from there,” Biello said. “And it wasn’t anything other than trying to use Pat and his qualities. He’s good in possession, so how could I put him in there so that he could be beneficial to the success of the team. And when he was given the opportunity, he took it, and that’s why he played a little bit more with me in the last couple of years.”
Biello said Bernier’s final game will be an opportunity for the Impact and their fans to celebrate everything he has done for the team, both during its MLS years and also before he went to play in Europe.
It could be a bittersweet day for Biello, though, who reports have said will not return as head coach next season.
“Yeah, it’s been a challenging year, no doubt,” Biello said. “It’s disappointing the way it turned out, but there’s a lot in this season to learn from. And there’s a lot for us to digest, and there’s a lot for us to now improve on, and I think that’s going to be the outlook. In the end we tried to kick-start this season at every point and it just kept falling back and we fell short in different moments. And unfortunately this happens in professional sports, but the most important thing is we learn from these experiences.”