MONTREAL - Midfield veteran Patrice Bernier says the fan base for soccer in Montreal is strong and it is up to the Impact to get them back.
Commenting on team owner and president Joey Saputo's stated fear that the club has lost its "buzz" among fans, Bernier acknowledged that finishing last in Major League Soccer last season drove many away. But he believes they will return when they see an improved team and better results.
He hopes it starts with the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final on March 3 at Olympic Stadium. The opening leg is Feb. 28 against Pachuca in Mexico.
The Impact drew more than 50,000 to a quarter-final in 2009, but Saputo said sales thus far suggest about half that will turn out this time.
"There are a lot of people that love soccer here and I believe the club has accomplished a lot since (entering MLS in) 2012," said Bernier, a native of the Brossard, Que. "Last year was a bad year, but this year there's a lot of optimism.
"We have a great opportunity with these two games and I believe the people who were scared away, we'll win them back."
The Impact has begun a marketing push to get fans out.
Defender Hassoun Camara said Impact players discussed Saputo's comments and hope they will inspire fans to appear in large numbers for the Champions League match.
"We hope it's going to move and the stadium will be full because, as players, we feel excited when the stadium is full like it was in 2009," said Camara. "We want the same experience, and to have a great event in Montreal."
This week, Saputo questioned whether Montreal's standing as a soccer market, saying the club had gone from third to 11th in average attendance in its first three years in MLS and may drop to 13th this season.