Even if I had a horse in the MLS race, I wouldn't care a lick whether he makes the all-star game. Any sort of non-competitive match midseason is a waste. But of more relevance to all Canadian fans should be whether Bernier will, and whether he ought to, play any part in Canada's four remaining World Cup qualifying matches in 2012.
Should he have been in Canada's midfield already earlier this year?
I was mildly surprised when he was left off the roster for Canada's two earlier qualifiers and the friendly against the USA, but I think Stephen Hart got it right. To that point in the season Bernier had only featured in 7 of the Impact's 13 MLS matches (6 starts) and 8 of 15 overall, and was clearly in the bad books of boss Jesse Marsch. There simply was no argument to be made that he should start in Canada's midfield ahead of Atiba Hutchinson, Will Johnson, or Julian de Guzman.
There's a big drop-off in quality after those 3 (though Nik Ledgerwood acquitted himself well enough) but a guy like Bernier, going on 33, doesn't come into a squad just to make up numbers in practice.
What does Bernier bring to the table?
I'll admit that I haven't watched a lot of Montreal's play this season. But I have seen some of the performances that have propelled Bernier into the all-star conversation. What I have noticed is that Marsch seems to allow him a fair degree of freedom to operate all over the midfield. That is, he pops up in often surprising positions, both defending and in attack.
Here's my summary of Bernier's skills and deficiencies:
- He is confident on the ball and his more offensive vision than any Canadian midfielder not named Hutchinson.
- He can shoot from range, and is a competent penalty-taker.
- He is useful breaking up attacks, but is not always in the best defensive positions.
- He is a bit wasteful of possession, with too many giveaways, though not often in dangerous positions.
- He could probably stand to lose a few pounds or otherwise improve his stamina.
Bernier is not a perfect player but a guy with that profile definitely has something to offer to a flawed Canada squad.
Should Bernier be called up to the next Canada squad?
Whether Bernier is called in to the next Canada squad depends largely, for me, on when Canada's next match takes place. The only confirmed dates on the calendar are the two Panama qualifiers in early September. A friendly for August 15th has not been confirmed as such; the only evidence Canadian fans have to cling to is CSA president Victor Montagliani's remark that they are speaking to four different countries about a match in this hemisphere (ie: not in Europe).
If the CSA can book a friendly Bernier needs to be selected. Despite only having played three times for Canada in the last two and a half years he is an experienced national team player. Whatever you think of the system Stephen Hart has Canada playing (I don't think much of it) Bernier deserves a chance to show that he can fit in.
By now I think most Canada watchers would agree to the following:
- Whether you call it a 4-5-1 or a 4-3-3, Stephen Hart favours a lineup with three central midfielders.
- Guys like Tosaint Ricketts, Iain Hume, Dwayne De Rosario, Josh Simpson (if he was healthy) and the like are wingers or forwards in such a set-up.
- The only real candidates for central midfield roles are de Guzman, Hutchinson, Ledgerwood, Johnson, Pedro Pacheco, and Bernier, if he was selected.
- Hutchinson is a cut above the rest of that back, and Pacheco and even Ledgerwood a step or two below.
To my mind that leaves Johnson, de Guzman, and Bernier competing for three spots. Thankfully, all three play in MLS and are in mid-season which makes at least superficial comparisons somewhat easy:
|Julian de Guzman||15||10||968||0||3||4||0|
Johnson has been his usual consistent self while Bernier and de Guzman have both spent time in their respective coaches' doghouses. I'm not convinced new TFC boss man Paul Mariner has any sort of clue, but the fact that de Guzman has been sitting on the bench is a strike against him. Point Johnson.
MLS also calculates a highly flawed Castrol Index stat (I say highly flawed because TFC's Danny Koevermans currently tops the chart) but said index also doesn't think highly of de Guzman, who ranks 142nd overall. Bernier slots in at 64th, and Johnson at 84th. Point Bernier.
If you want to find a way to conjure up a point for de Guzman, it is this: Julian has been a national team fixture for years and tends to step up his game when he pulls on a Canada jersey. He does not (or is not allowed to) play with much creativity under Stephen Hart, but he also rarely puts his team in trouble by giving possession away cheaply.
The latter is my main worry with Bernier which is why I'd be wary about giving him the start against Panama without first having seen him fit into Hart's system under less dangerous conditions. If he replaces de Guzman (and if Hutchinson is healthy this is the only way I can see Bernier getting in to the starting eleven) then Hart will need to be sure that Bernier is ready for the defensive responsibilities, and knows how to keep the team's shape. With Dwayne De Rosario all but assured a starting spot on the wing, the team cannot afford another freewheeler.
The only other solution with a midfield 3 of Hutchinson, Bernier, and Johnson is to rotate the triangle and have Atiba play more defensively. Hutchinson is Canada's best player and would no doubt do well in that role (for me, he'd probably be the best guy at 3 or 4 of the positions) but you lose some attacking potential if he's not in behind the central striker.
If Canada can't get a friendly (given my experience as a Canada supporter I'd put the chances at about 50-50) then I don't see Bernier starting against Panama unless either: 1) de Guzman completely falls off the map for TFC, or 2) Atiba Hutchinson or one of the other midfielders isn't healthy. Neither of those two are that unlikely.
If all goes well, a friendly can be booked, Bernier can show he belongs and players are all healthy come September, than he's in my starting XI. Is he in yours?