A day before heading to Florida to continue training camp, the Montreal Impact picked up a new captain and a new striker.
Veteran midfielder Patrice Bernier will be a popular choice to replace the departed Davy Arnaud as captain, not only because he is a local player and fluently bilingual.
"He's always very positive in his attitude around the team,'' sporting director Nick De Santis said Thursday.
"And even in difficult times, you never see the pressure get to him. These are important things.''
And Santiago Gonzalez, a 21-year-old forward from the Sud America club in Uruguay, who was signed under Major League Soccer's special discovery rule, could be a nice addition to a club that is thin up front.
The Impact ended their first phase of camp indoors at Marie Victorin College and now move onto grass fields and warm weather in Orlando, Fla., to defend their title in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic, a pre-season tournament.
Bernier, of Brossard, was hoping to get the captain's armband after Arnaud, their skipper for their first two MLS seasons who left for D.C. United.
New coach Frank Klopas picked veterans Marco Di Vaio, Matteo Ferrari and Troy Perkins as Bernier's assistants.
The 34-year-old Bernier began his pro career with the Impact, then played nine seasons in Europe before returning for the club's MLS expansion season in 2012.
"It's another step in my career and a new challenge in terms of my personality and what I have to do, not just on the field, but how to interact with my teammates,'' said Bernier
"I started off here and hopefully I end here. Now, to have the armband, it's a great show of respect.''
Luring Bernier back from Europe was one of the Impact's most important moves while moving from the second tier NASL to MLS.
It gave them a high quality midfielder who understood North American soccer but who could also relate to the many European, especially Italian, players the club brought in.
Bernier has 13 goals and 16 assists in 58 games over the last two seasons. He was named the Impact's player of the year in 2012 and played in the MLS all-star game last season.
Arnaud arrived with the experience and credentials to make him the logical pick as the team's first MLS captain, and Bernier was the obvious pick to succeed him.
Even while Arnaud wore the armband, Bernier was the team's most visible player in the media and out in the community.
"Maybe now I'll be looked upon as the reflection of the team in what I say and what I do,'' he said.
"I'll be the same guy as before, but maybe you have to stand out.
"It's something special. In soccer, the captain is the first one to step onto the field, the first one that people see, that the referees go to for explanations or rectifications or whatever. So I can't just think of my own bubble anymore.''
Star striker Di Vaio had a little fun when asked about Bernier as captain.
"I don't agree. I wanted to be captain,'' he said, before smiling and adding
"No. It's good for us and it's good for Patrice. It's the best thing for the team. We know that Patrice is going to be a good captain for us, for the club and for the fans.''
Bernier has been unable to join his teammates on the field since the first day of camp as he heals from surgery on Dec. 11 to fix loose cartilage in his right knee. He expects to resume full training in Florida.
Also on the pitch in Orlando will be Gonzalez, who was in Montreal and was to make the flight with a team after undergoing a medical exam.
De Santis said that as a special discovery player, the club can amortize the five-foot-eight forward's costs over several years, so that his salary cap hit stays between $125,000 and $150,000.
He is also not a designated player, which leaves one DP spot open for a future signing.
Di Vaio and Argentine midfielder Hernan Bernardello are the team's DPs.
"He's going to bring a new dynamic to the team,'' said De Santis.
"There's a question of adaptation because it's the first time he leaves his country to play professional soccer, so we need to be patient with him. But he's got a lot for good qualities.''
De Santis also denied reports from Italy that Pablo Piatti of Valencia and Stefano Mauri of Lazio would be joining the Impact, saying he's had no contact with either club.
He said he may still sign another player ``if we can add an important piece to get you to the next level.''
Photo credit: impactmontreal.com