Former Syracuse player Patrice Bernier’s journey to the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame

Patrice Bernier hopped on a Zoom call in late January, expecting to meet associates from his football business, Enov Sport. Instead, Canada Men’s National Team player Samuel Piette and Canada assistant coach Mauro Biello surprised Bernier by telling him about his selection to the Canada Soccer Hall of Fame.

Bernier, who played for Syracuse for two seasons from 1998-99, was officially celebrated for his induction in Canada’s 4-0 CONCACAF Nations League victory over Curacao in June. The long-serving attacking midfielder has made 56 senior international appearances in 14 years. When he retired in 2017, he won the Canadian Championship twice with CF Montreal, formerly known as the Montreal Impact.

“To know that I will be part of the exclusive group of men and women who have marked the history of Canada. Not just Quebec, my province or my city, but the whole country,” Bernier said. “Somehow you say to yourself, ‘this is priceless because it’s kind of the reward for everything’, which you put in the dark hours and times when you maybe didn’t know not if you were going to make it.”

Although he had already been selected to the Quebec Soccer Hall of Fame a month after retiring, Bernier did not expect to be inducted into the Canadian Hall until later in his life.

His father, Jean, who was also on that Zoom call, was a big reason Bernier got involved in the sport in the first place.

As a child, Bernier remembered watching the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico – the only World Cup in which Canada had participated. Canada had lost all three of their group stage matches, but their appearance at the World Cup led Bernier to believe he could represent his country on the sport’s biggest stage.

Bernier’s Haitian parents put him in football because it was the most popular sport in Haiti, and he showed his abilities at age four. He started his club career at AS Brossard in his hometown, Brossard, Quebec, with his father as his first coach.

But Bernier was a “hyperactive, energetic kid,” so his parents also put him in hockey when he was six to keep him physically active throughout the year. Bernier progressed through the junior hockey ranks until age 18, recording 17 goals and 73 points with the Val d’Or Foreurs and Sherbrooke Faucons of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He said he was about to be drafted into the NHL.

Former SU men’s soccer coach Dean Foti gave Bernier his scholarship before Bernier joined the junior hockey level. But after two years, Bernier decided he was ready to come to Syracuse to play soccer.

Bernier joined SU during a “phenomenal sporting era”, said Neeraj Chopra, an SU teammate who maintains regular contact with Bernier. Donovan McNabb was the football team’s quarterback and the Powell brothers ran the lacrosse team at the time.

midfielder-maestro-01

Megan Thompson | Director of Digital Design

“In soccer, we had Patrice Bernier. And that was damn cool,” Chopra said.

Bernier immersed himself in a “very competitive” environment at SU, competing in the Big East and against several top-25 programs like Georgetown, Notre Dame and Rutgers. Joining the team was the first time in his life that he only focused on football and had access to advanced sports complexes.

At the 1995 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Ecuador, Bernier noticed a difference when he faced Brazil, whose players were already integrated into professional clubs at youth level, while he was still at amateur level.

On the pitch, Bernier was more laid back and less vocal. He was “extremely competitive” and his level of fitness was “breathtaking,” said John Mark Andrade, Bernier’s teammate and roommate at Syracuse. Andrade recalled how Bernier watched VHS tapes of Brazil’s Ronaldo and the French national team to develop his art.

In 38 games at Syracuse, Bernier had 34 points with 12 goals and 10 assists. He was named to the Big East All-Rookie Team in his first year and to the All-Big East First Team in his second year. After his second season, Bernier, who had previously played at the national junior level, informed Foti that it was time for him to turn professional in hopes of playing for Canada at the World Cup.

Bernier played for Canada’s U17, U20 and U23 teams, eventually making his senior national team debut in a November 2003 friendly against the Czech Republic. He began his professional club career with 73 appearances for CF Montreal from 2000 to 2002 before moving to Europe for the next nine years, where he scored nine goals.

Courtesy of Patrice Bernier

But he returned to CF Montreal from 2012 to 2017, adding 152 more appearances and 15 goals.

On August 20, 2022, the club honored Bernier with an in-game celebration during their 4-0 win over the New England Revolution. In 2012, Bernier was named the team’s Most Valuable Player and he was selected to the Major League Soccer All-Star Team in 2013.

Bernier played his last professional match on October 22, 2017 against the New England Revolution. But in 2018 he was back with the club as a coach. He was an assistant for the youth teams of the Montreal Impact Academy, the youth system of CF Montreal. In 2019, he joined the staff of Thierry Henry as assistant to the first team. But Bernier eventually left his coaching role to join TVA Sports as an analyst.

Although he never achieved his goal of reaching the World Cup, he helped develop and mentor “the next generation” of Canadian talent like Alphonso Davies, who plays professionally for Bayern Munich of the Bundesliga. During the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Davies and Bernier, who captained the team after a two-year hiatus from the team, were roommates at the tournament and Bernier saw Davies’ potential firsthand.

“I could see him jump up and see, wow, this kid has the potential to go do something and go somewhere,” Bernier said. “I’m proud to have left the national team on a high, knowing I was captain and leaving Canada under a new generation.”

Bernier usually played in the attacking midfield role and was more technical and possession-oriented, Chopra said. Although Bernier thrived on attack, Chopra recalled a 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup quarter-final at Lincoln Financial Field where Canada faced Honduras in Chopra’s hometown. Chopra was given seats in Bernier’s box and recalled Bernier running 40 yards to chase a Honduran striker to win the ball.

a1-timeline-01

Megan Thompson | Director of Digital Design

“It was epic in my mind,” Chopra said. “Of course his (offensive) spirit itself continued to be (present), but it just showed me his tenacity and the intensity of the game, but actually something defensively that was great to see.”

Chopra and Bernier still speak to each other frequently, and Bernier consulted Chopra when debating whether to continue coaching at CF Montreal or pursue a position in broadcasting. Their conversations have evolved over the years, mostly focusing on family, raising their respective children, and balancing life decisions. Bernier continues to do business with his company, which designs advanced and innovative soccer equipment.

Bernier did not have the opportunity to return to Syracuse. He will occasionally speak to SU head coach Ian McIntyre as well as some of his former SU teammates and reminisce about his time there.

“It was two great years that were part of the beginning of becoming a professional soccer player,” said Bernier.

And the debut culminated in one of Canadian soccer’s greatest honors.

“You want to leave a footprint and that footprint is now enshrined in the Canadian Hall of Fame,” Bernier said. “And no one can take that away.”

Contact Cole: [email protected]

Comments are closed.