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Impact-Toronto playoff series a milestone for Canadian club soccer

Last Updated Nov 21, 2016 at 8:36 pm EDT

MONTREAL – Patrice Bernier is well aware of what an all-Canadian playoff series played before huge crowds means to his sport.

The Brossard, Que., native will be in the thick of it for the Montreal Impact when they play host to Toronto FC in the first leg of an MLS Eastern Conference semifinal on Tuesday night before a crowd expected to top 60,000. The second leg is Nov. 30 at BMO Field in Toronto.

“As a Canadian international who was born here and plays here, this is great for the game,” Bernier said Monday. “You always look to the national team to ignite it because the World Cup is the biggest stage, but now you have two clubs that are telling kids that this is the type of game you want to play in; that you want to play for the Montreal Impact or TFC.

“For me to be back home and part of that is great. It’s great that there will be a Canadian team in the final, and we’re going to work hard to make sure it’s us.”

The winner of the two-game, aggregate goals series will become the first Canadian team to reach the MLS Cup final, which is to be played on Dec. 10.

Each squad has one Canadian in its usual starting 11 — Bernier for Montreal and midfielder Jonathan Osorio of Brampton, Ont. for Toronto. TFC also uses forward Tosaint Ricketts of Edmonton often as a late substitute, while the Impact’s head coach is Montreal native Mauro Biello.

They will meet in the most high-profile match ever between two Canadian club teams.

“It’s huge for the sport in the country,” said Osorio. “It has been growing slowly every year, but this will definitely make it grow a lot faster.

“Everybody is tuned in. Whether you’re a hockey or basketball or soccer fan, it doesn’t matter. Everyone knows about the game.”

Biello was a star forward for the Impact for nearly two decades as the team played in various leagues. He joined the coaching staff after the club entered MLS in 2012 and was promoted to head coach in September, 2015.

“This is where dreams begin for a lot of young players,” said Biello. “Watching this game and having a chance to experience it, you dream of maybe one day being a part of it.

“I think that’s the most important thing this game represents for young players and for soccer in this country.”

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