MLS: Montreal’s MVP Is League’s Most Valuable On Penalties

Written by Ian Thomson

Montreal Impact midfielder Patrice Bernier ended his debut season in Major League Soccer by receiving the expansion franchise’s Most Valuable Player award. It’s also fair to crown the 33-year-old Canadian international as the league’s Penalty Kick King.

Montreal’s Bernier in action from the spot against New England Revolution on July 18

Bernier went to the spot six times during the regular season, splitting his attempts with unblemished success to the opposing goalkeepers’ left and right. Only Chris Wondolowski took more penalties than Bernier. The Golden Boot winner’s seventh kick of the season in Portland last Saturday allowed him to tie Roy Lassiter’s record of 27 goals in a single season. In hindsight, two saves from Columbus Crew’s Andy Gruenebaum and F.C. Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman prevented the San Jose Earthquakes striker from setting a new benchmark.

The coolness with which Bernier approaches the task of converting from 12 yards was exemplified during Montreal’s 2-1 win over New England Revolution at Saputo Stadium on July 18. Referee Fotis Bazakos blew his whistle fractionally before Bernier stroked his initial kick into Matt Reis’ bottom-left corner to admonish the Revs goalkeeper for standing behind his goal line.

Bernier’s stutter-step before planting his second kick low to Reis’ right prompted Bazakos to rule that one out too. The Brossard, Quebec native went back to Reis’ left side with his third, and finally qualifying, effort.

Referee Bazakos finally awarded Bernier’s third successful kick past New England’s Matt Reis

Impact Lead From The Penalty Spot

Montreal’s total of nine penalties led the league. Italian striker Bernardo Corradi netted the team’s other three kicks. San Jose scored from six of its eight penalties with Khari Stephenson adding a successful conversion at Los Angeles Galaxy on May 23 to Wondolowski’s haul. Houston Dynamo netted six from seven with set-piece wizard Brad Davis scoring three of his four attempts and Brian Ching notching a couple. Colin Clark converted his sole effort with the last play of the game against Real Salt Lake on Sept. 6 to grab a 1-0 win after Nick Rimando had foiled Davis from the spot on 76 minutes.

Portland Timbers was the only team that did not receive a spot kick during the season. Toronto F.C.’s woeful campaign was matched by its penalty taking. Torsten Frings and Ryan Johnson fired the Canadians’ two attempts off the post. The pair was among seven players failing with their only try of the year. Dwayne De Rosario found himself in that group after D.C. United’s 1-1 tie with Philadelphia Union on Aug. 19. The reigning league MVP tucked his initial kick into Zac MacMath’s right corner. Encroachment, a scuffle and an ensuing red card for Branko Boskovic delayed the retake by two and a half minutes. De Rosario fired his second effort over the crossbar.

In total, 72 penalty kicks were awarded during the regular season with 57 being converted (79 percent). Ten efforts were saved (14 percent) and five shots missed the target (seven percent).

Montreal scored all nine of its penalty kicks, while rivals Toronto failed to convert both of its attempts (Table: Ian Thomson)

Charitable Montreal Spreads The Wealth

The Impact’s success in winning penalties was almost negated by its profligacy in giving them away. Eight fouls were awarded against Montreal in the team’s own penalty area, and each one resulted in a successful spot kick. Portland shipped six goals from six penalties conceded, and Houston lost five from five. Montreal and Portland’s high placing on this list saw Donovan Ricketts face more penalties than any other goalkeeper this season. The Jamaican international was traded to the Timbers by Impact head coach Jesse Marsch in August in exchange for Troy Perkins. All nine kicks against Ricketts found the net, with New York Red Bulls’ Kenny Cooper beating him in two separate games.

Kevin Hartman clocked up the most impressive record at stopping penalties. The Dallas veteran made saves to deny Wondolowski, Sporting Kansas City’s Kei Kamara and Chicago Fire’s Sebastian Grazzini. Galaxy superstar Robbie Keane slid his attempt wide of goal when faced with Hartman’s understudy Chris Seitz on April 28, meaning that the Texans conceded goals from just two of six penalties given up.

The Impact also conceded the most penalty kicks, losing eight goals from eight attempts (Table: Ian Thomson)

Saputo Stadium Crowd Treated To Penalty Thrills

Montreal’s knack for earning and conceding penalties saw eight spot kicks being awarded at Saputo Stadium. No other venue played host to more attempts. Kei Kamara and Graham Zusi converted two second-half kicks during Kansas City’s 3-1 win against the Impact on July 4. Bernier scored five of his efforts at home and Wondolowski netted a consolation strike during San Jose’s 3-1 loss in Quebec on Aug. 18.

Eight penalties were also awarded at Home Depot Center between Chivas USA and Galaxy games. The crowds at Houston’s new BBVA Compass Stadium saw seven penalty kicks. The Dynamo converted five of the six attempts with former striker Kamara again on target for Sporting.

Sporting and Houston were the only teams to receive two penalties in the same game. The Dynamo achieved this feat twice. Davis and Ching both found the net during a 4-0 home win over D.C. United on July 15 in addition to the game against Salt Lake.

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