That all changed last week when a call came saying the defensive midfielder was available on the transfer market.
On Tuesday, he became the Impact's second designated player after agreeing to a contract for one season with two option years.
The Impact hope he will bring a jolt of skill and experience to their drive for a Major League Soccer Soccer playoff spot and their foray into CONCACAF Champions League play.
Bernardello, who turns 27 on Aug. 3, is known as a defensive midfielder who is also a strong passer.
"His decision-making is simple but efficient," De Santis said of the five-foot-nine former Spanish league player. "He will help us not only recovering balls, but in relaunching the attack."
Bernardello was scheduled to meet the media on Wednesday, but the team says he's been hospitalized for serious flu-like symptoms.
The club did not disclose contract details.
He joins 37-year-old Italian striker Marco Di Vaio, who will earn $1.9 million this season, as the team's second designated player.
If Bernardello receives his international transfer certificate in time, he could see his first action when Montreal hosts Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night.
De Santis has not ruled out adding another player, likely a central defender, before the transfer window closes in August.
He was looking for help on the attack when he went to Argentina, but Bernardello, an experienced two-way player, caught his eye.
He said the Rosario, Argentina, native will add to the club's skill and depth in the centre of the midfield.
He also brings youth and energy to a team heavy in starters who are over 30, including Di Vaio, midfielders Patrice Bernier and Davy Arnaud and central defenders Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari.
"It's a player that can help us now and in the future," De Santis said.
The move also sent a message to the team that the front office is ready to bring in talent for the playoffs and Champions League, which begins when the San Jose Earthquakes visit Saputo Stadium on Aug. 7.
De Santis has no doubt Bernardello will fit into coach Marco Schallibaum's scheme.
"We did a lot of homework on this player," he said. "It's almost 100 per cent that he will integrate well with this team.
"He has a big motivation to play in MLS and to play for Montreal and I think he'll be a big help going forward."
Fullback Hassoun Camara welcomed the news.
"If he comes it will be good for us," said Camara. "It shows the ambition we have to do well in the league and to have other weapons in our arsenal for the league championship and the Champions League."
The Impact is tied for second in the MLS Eastern Conference, with games in hand on its closest rivals, so the club is well-positioned to make the playoffs in only its second year in MLS.
Montreal qualified for the Champions League by winning the Amway Canadian Championship earlier this season.
There was concern Bernardello will displace all-star Bernier, who plays in the defensive midfield spot. The Brossard, Que., native said he would wait and see what Schallibaum decides to do with the lineup.
"We'll see once he gets here what the coach decides and what the new scheme will be," said Bernier. "Are we going to play the same system, or have players in different positions? We don't know."
Schallibaum would not comment until the player officially joined the club. Bernardello, who will wear No. 23, is to be at practice on Wednesday morning.
De Santis said the acquisition will give the coaches options, so they can use two holding midfelders or one depending on the opponent. Also, Bernier could at times move up to more of an attacking role.
"With all the games coming up, we'll need fresh legs," he said. "He's only 26 and he's played more than 100 games in La Liga (Spain) and in Argentina.
"He'll bring energy, volume and experience."
The Impact made room for newcomers last week by loaning little-used midfielders Calum Mallace and Sinisa Ubiparipovic to Minnesota of the NASL.
MLS teams are allowed up to three DPs at a time. A designated player can be paid more than the maximum under the salary cap, with only US$368,750 counting against the cap.
Former Bologna striker Di Vaio joined as Montreal's first DP midway through the its expansion season in 2012.
Di Vaio missed the Impact's 0-0 draw on Saturday night with FC Dallas when he returned to Italy to attend to a family matter. He was back at practice Tuesday.
"It's a pity when Marco can't play," said Schallibaum. "We needed him Saturday.
"Daniele (Paponi) and Andrew (Wenger) did well, but maybe (missing) Marco's experience was the difference. But I'm happy he's back and also that he has good news from his family."
Bernardello began his pro career with Newell's Old Boys in Argentina before moving to Almeria in the Spanish league for three seasons. He was loaned to Atletico Colon, one of Argentina's top teams, last season.
He played once for his country in 2009.
He will be the second Argentine on the roster after midfielder Andres Romero. Another midfielder from Argentina, Maximiliano Rodriguez, has been placed on the long-term injury list.
The Impact has 11 spots for foreign players filled on its roster.
De Santis also said the team will seek a second option from a doctor on the state of central defender Nelson Rivas' chronic knee injury. The Colombian missed most of last season and has yet to play in 2013. If he can get healthy, it would add much-needed depth to the defence.