Patrice Bernier's tough start to the season has turned around quite nicely.
The Montreal Impact midfielder scored from the penalty spot and added another goal late in the second half Saturday to help defeat D.C. United 3-0 in MLS play.
The victory extended the Impact's (12-13-3) winning streak to five and moved the club to within a point of fifth-place United (12-9-4) for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"Over the last month or so, we've been very good and we've worked hard. We've earned the success we've got right now," Impact captain Davy Arnaud said.
D.C., which hasn't won back-to-back games since late May, still has three games in hand.
Leading 1-0 at halftime on a goal by Marco Di Vaio, Bernier put the sold-out crowd at Saputo Stadium into a frenzy when he converted a penalty kick in the 50th minute for his eighth goal of the season. The kick was awarded when Impact midfielder Collen Warner was fouled.
With the goal, the Brossard, Que., native became the first player since Jamie Moreno in 2009 to score six goals on penalty kicks in a single season.
It was also the Impact's ninth penalty kick goal in as many attempts this season.
"I've never seen a season like this where one team has had so many penalty kicks. As long as we're winning, I'm happy," Bernier said.
After spending the last 10 seasons playing in Europe, Bernier returned to Montreal and the Impact (where he played from 2000 to 2002) for the club's inaugural MLS season. But his return hit a rocky road early on.
He started the first four games before going five matches without a start. In four of those, he was an unused sub.
Since May 26, he's started 12 of 14 games and played a full 90 minutes on 10 occasions.
Despite the rough go, Bernier never complained.
"I do my talking on the field," he said.
"Everybody will go through some times where they're not happy, not playing or whatever but Patrice kept pushing forward," Arnaud said. "He's been very good and we hope he keeps it going that way, just as we hope the team does."
Bernier added his second goal of the game in injury time on a slick finish past United goalkeeper Bill Hamid.
The Impact took some time to find their legs and their lungs as sunny skies and 30-degree temperature blazed on the field.
"We wanted a high-tempo game but we almost weren't able to dictate that because we were tired. You can't replicate the heat, no matter how fit you are. It takes a while to adjust," said Impact coach Jesse Marsch. "I think Marco's goal settled the game down a bit and helped us get our second wind."
Awarded three free kicks in the opening nine minutes, D.C. had its chances to take the lead but was denied by Montreal keeper Troy Perkins.
Playing its third game in seven days, the Washington club had weary legs in its starting rotation and on the bench. But coach Ben Olsen was pleased with his team, in spite of the rough schedule.
"I was very happy with the effort and the mentality from the group. You don't get a break," he said. "It's tough on two days rest."
In the first half, Di Vaio was caught offside several times early on but finally got his chance in the 24th minute when Bernier found him behind the D.C. defence. The Italian patiently outwaited Bill Hamid and beat him to the far corner for his third of the season.
Montreal had chances to add to its lead in the second half, including several from Di Vaio. He got a perfect setup from Bernier at 63rd minute, but sailed the ball over the net. Di Vaio had another chance for his second of the match in the 81st minute but his shot went wide.
Perkins preserved his team's two-goal lead in the 78th minute with a diving save to deny D.C. midfielder Marcelo Saragosa. The 31-year-old has been a steady presence in net for the Impact, giving up just one goal — a penalty kick conversion last week against San Jose — in his three games since joining the club.
The team has also proven to be strong defensively during its current winning streak, recording three shutouts and allowing just one goal in the other two matches.
"With every win, our confidence grows and with every win the next game becomes bigger and bigger. We're up for the challenge," Arnaud. "We knew coming into this last stretch of the season we were in a tough spot and needed to put some wins together. I think we've done well and we're going to keep pressing forward."