Patrice Bernier is a sports reporter’s dream.
A likeable guy off the field with a good heart, the Montreal Impact veteran doesn’t tend to hold back when asked direct questions. He speaks his mind in a frank and unapologetic manner.
So it hardly came as a surprise that Bernier didn’t mince words when this correspondent asked him if the Impact are getting enough respect in Major League Soccer.
“I’m going to be very blunt with you: No. All three Canadian teams are not high-profile in MLS. It’s a U.S.-based league mostly, and Montreal is considered a medium market. We’re still a young club in MLS, so I won’t brand it entirely as a States-vs.-Canada thing. We’ve only been in the league four years, and we have to create memories by winning and getting to the payoffs consistently,” Bernier said.
“But I also know that we’re in a market where when we do very good things, like in 2013 when we were in first place for 25 days, we don’t [get much attention]. The Canadian teams aren’t as well known in MLS, and we don’t get as much TV coverage in the States, so the public eye on us isn’t what it should be. But it’s our job to make the playoffs and win something, and change that. If you win titles, people will talk about you. If you don’t win, you’re just another team.”
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People should be paying more attention to the Impact, one of the hottest teams in MLS right now. They clinched a playoff berth last week, and currently sit fifth in the Eastern Conference. Montreal can leapfrog rivals Toronto FC in the standings and secure home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs by beating the Reds on Sunday at Stade Saputo on the last day of the regular season.
Montreal being in this position is a far cry from the last two MLS campaigns when it stumbled across the finish line.
“Last year we were out of it, and the year before that we were grasping at points and victories to try to make the playoffs, which we did through the back door. Now we walked in through the front door, and our [fate] is in our hands. There’s no better way to settle it than to play TFC at home knowing that both are in but we’re both playing for something,” Bernier said.
Two months ago the Impact were in crisis. The team lost in Didier Drogba’s debut—a 1–0 setback to Philadelphia at home—and followed that up with a road loss in Toronto. The next day, owner Joey Saputo fired coach Frank Klopas and replaced him with interim boss Mauro Biello.
Since then, the Impact have undergone an amazing turnaround, winning six of 10 matches (with two draws), including back-to-back road victories in Colorado and New England. Drogba has also gone on a tear, scoring nine goals in 10 games, eight as a starter.
No doubt that Drogba has played a major role in Montreal’s resurgence. But Bernier gives a lot of the credit to Biello, explaining, “His guidance has been immeasurable and he’s gained the trust of the players in a short period of time.”
The lines of communication between the players and coaching staff are much stronger under Biello.
“He’s a guy that listens. In terms of communication, he’s very up front with the players about where they stand,” Bernier offered.
“When he took over and we had so many games in front of us, he said point blank there was going to be [squad] rotation, so this was a chance for players who hadn’t been playing much to seize their opportunity. When a coach says that and follows up on it, and a player sees that, then they can’t complain about lack of playing time and chances.”
One of those players who has been given more chances is Bernier. The Canadian didn’t figure into Klopas’s plans, and saw limited action this season, mostly off the bench. Under Biello, he’s appeared in Montreal’s last six games, and started three times.
“When he came in we had a quick conversation and he reminded me of the things I’ve done for this team in the past and what I can bring in the future. He told me everybody would get an opportunity to prove themselves,” Bernier said.
“There’s been guys like me who have been given a shot under Mauro, and now we feel part of the project and the team. The chemistry has solidified itself even more. You just want frank answers as to where you stand. Mauro has provided them.”