Toronto FC tips its cap to retiring Montreal captain Patrice Bernier

Montreal Impact's Patrice Bernier. (Graham Hughes/CP)

TORONTO – Greg Vanney recognized the moment. Michael Bradley, too.

Toronto FC’s 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact last Sunday had a festive, celebratory atmosphere to it. It was the final home game before the start of the playoffs, so the fans were in a pretty good mood. On top of that, the Reds were to be formally handed the Supporters’ Shield, the trophy awarded to the team that finishes the MLS regular season in first place, after the game.

Once the final whistle blew, stage hands rushed onto the field to set up a large banner in front of the south stands of BMO Field where Bradley, TFC’s captain, and his teammates would hoist the trophy while drinking in the adulation of their supporters.

But before taking part in the celebrations that would ensue, Vanney spotted Patrice Bernier on the field, walked over to the Montreal captain and had a quick word with him, patting him on the back. After Toronto’s coach was done, Bradley followed suit.

Bernier is retiring after this Sunday’s home game against the New England Revolution, the Impact’s regular season finale. Last weekend’s loss to the Reds was Bernier’s final game against TFC, and although this was their moment, Vanney and Bradley made it a point to seek out Bernier, a player who was a worthy adversary over the years.

“I don’t know Patrice really well, but my [intention] there was to acknowledge what a great career he’s had. Every time we’ve played against him, he’s a handful. He’s always been excellent against us,” Vanney said after the game.

Bernier, a 38-year-old native of Brossard, Que., is the Montreal Impact through and through.

He first played for the team between 2000 and 2002 when the team competed in the old USL A-League before eventually making his way to Europe where he enjoyed a distinguished career playing for such clubs as FC Nordsjælland in Denmark and Norwegian outfit Tromso.

He eventually came home, signing with the Impact in 2012 for their first season in MLS. In his six years in the league, the veteran midfielder has made 158 appearances for the Impact, scoring 16 goals and tallying 28 assists.

And although his playing time diminished over the last three seasons, the central midfielder’s status as the face of the Impact and his popularity with the Montreal fan base never wavered.

“I’ve admired from the opposite side a guy who has been able to endure and be great for a long period of time,” Vanney said. “I have great appreciation for guys who lay it out there every single time they step on the field, and he’s done that. He bled for that club.”

A lot of that bleeding has come against Toronto FC, as the Reds and Impact have forged one of the most hotly contested rivalries in MLS. In 2015, it was Bernier’s goal in the 18th minute that set Montreal on course for a 3–0 win over Toronto at Stade Saputo to send the Reds crashing out of the first round of the playoffs.

A year later, Bernier set up two goals in the Impact’s 3–2 win in the opening leg of the Eastern Conference semi-finals, regarded as one of the best post-season series in MLS history.

“He’s a guy that for Canadian soccer, for the city of Montreal, has given so much. You can’t help but have a ton of respect for the career that he’s had,” Bradley offered.

“In the last two or three years, we’ve had our chance to play against each other on a number of big days, and I have a huge amount of admiration and respect for the way he plays, for the way he carries himself, for the way he represents himself, his club, his city.”

Midfielder Jonathan Osorio is another player who has gone up against Bernier during the TFC-Impact rivalry, but he was also a teammate, having played alongside the Montreal captain with the Canadian national team.

Bernier made his debut for Canada in 2003 in a friendly against the Czech Republic. His last cap for his country came this past summer against Honduras in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. In total, Bernier made 56 appearances for Canada — 41 as a starter — and scored two goals.

Osorio described Bernier as a dedicated veteran who was always willing to help out young players in Canadian national team training camps.

“Being a teammate, he was a mentor for the younger players. As an opponent, he was very tough to play against – a very, very smart player,” Osorio told Sportsnet.

“Patrice, in my opinion, over his career should have received even more chances to play for the national team than he did. I think he deserved to be more involved. But in the end, he still had a great career. He’s a legend in Montreal. He means a lot to that team and that city.”

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