Patrice Bernier left the Saputo Stadium pitch for the last time in tears, with one more goal in his pocket but also with a Montreal Impact defeat to mar the occasion.
The Brossard, Que. native's 18-year professional career ended when he was substituted in the 81st minute of the Impact's season-ending 3-2 loss to the New England Revolution on Sunday. Bernier is to retire as a player but stay with the Impact as a coach in their academy.
His career as perhaps the best player ever to come out of Quebec was celebrated in a pre-game ceremony with his family on the field. He also took a lap of honour afterwards while the 20,681 fans stood and cheered.
"When I came back out from the warmup I starting thinking about everything," the 38-year-old said. "Usually I don't, but it's just that everything comes out.
"It was difficult because you have mixed emotions. I'm stopping but I also know I'm staying here with the club."
It should have ended with at least a draw, but as has happened a handful of times this season, the points were wasted by conceding a goal in added time that shouldn't have happened. New England substitute Kelyn Rowe won it with a shot from 30 yards that caught goalie Max Crepeau napping as it dipped just under the bar.
Result a 'huge downer'
Coach Mauro Biello called the result a "huge downer," coming moments after Montreal's Matteo Mancosu's 90th-minute goal had tied the game.
"It symbolizes our season," said Biello, whose club missed the playoffs one year after a thrilling run to the MLS Eastern Conference final. "It's like there were other forces out there ending the game.
"There are so many things we can look at and reevaluate. The last one, a shot and we don't make the play and we lose this game."
Bernier had scored from the penalty spot just before the intermission to tie the game after Diego Fagundez's early goal. Krisztian Nemeth put New England ahead before Mancuso redirected a pass from Ballou Tabla past Brad Knighton.
Montreal (11-17-6), which lost its last five matches and nine of its last 10, ended the season in ninth place in the Eastern Conference while New England (13-15-6) also missed the playoffs in seventh spot.
There are likely to be many moves ahead of next season, but the season finale was about Bernier, who started his career with the Impact in 2000, moved to Europe for nine seasons and returned when Montreal joined MLS in 2012. He has been captain since 2014.
"It was emotional," said Biello. "It was tough.
"During the week he didn't know how he was going to react and I said 'at some point it's going to hit you.' And it did as he came off the field. But in the end, those are tears of joy for the career he had."
"It was a very emotional game for me as well," said 22-year-old midfielder Samuel Piette, who had Bernier as a role model while growing up in the Montreal area. "I'm very happy for Pat.
"He had a good game, especially with the goal. We would have liked to get him the win, but it doesn't always go your way."
The Impact went on the attack from the start, with Bernier particularly active in an advanced midfield position, and had some early chances.
But it was New England that struck first as Fagundez worked the ball into the middle and slipped a pass to Nemeth, whose shot went off the right post only to see Fagundez pound the rebound past Crepeau in the 19th minute.
The big moment for the fans came in added time before the intermission, when New England defender Benjamin Angoua blocked Anthony Jackson-Hamel's shot with his arm in the area and referee Rubiel Vazquez pointed to the spot. A roar went up as Bernier was chosen as the shooter and he made no mistake with a stutter step and a hard, low shot.
Bernier's parent, Jean and Gladys, got to ring the fans' goal bell in the east stands behind the net where their son scored.
"I knew my parents were behind the goal and I was thinking about a lot of things I don't usually think about, but I scored so I'm happy."
The Revolution got it back only seconds into the second half when an ill-considered back pass by Piette was picked off by Fagundez, who slipped it to Nemeth for the easy goal in alone.
Bernier got a huge ovation from the near-sellout crowd of 20,681 as the father-of-three took the field with his family and a video of career highlights was shown on the scoreboard. He got another when he was substituted for Shamit Shome, a 20-year-old from Edmonton who played his first minutes for Montreal.
Tributes have poured in on social media in recent days from Bernier's current and past teammates, players from around the league and other athletes and personalities.
Even the Revs' Kei Kamara issued a tweet that read "Today another legend will play his last professional game. Take your hats off for this man."