WALLINGFORD, Pa. – With his back to the goal and the ball looping toward him, Antoine Hoppenot attempted one of soccer’s most seductive plays: the bicycle kick.
“I thought I had it,” the Philadelphia Union rookie told MLSsoccer.com on Monday. “It felt perfect.”
He didn’t have it. The ball glanced harmlessly off his foot.
Luckily for the Union, it was one of the rare things Hoppenot tried that didn’t work in Philadelphia’s 4-2 win over the New England Revolution in Monday’s Reserve League opener at Chester Park.
Hoppenot, a first-year striker out of Princeton, gave Philly fans a glimpse of his potential by creating the first goal, scoring the second and using his speed to get behind the Revs defense throughout the game.
“He has game-changing pace – that helps,” Union reserve team coach Brendan Burke said. “And he’s tenacious. He does so much work off the ball, which allows him to either win the ball in positive space or allow his teammates to win it in positive space. And once you’re one-on-one with him, you don’t have a chance of keeping up.”
The Union already boast a slew of promising young strikers in Danny Mwanga, Jack McInerney, Josué Martínez and Chandler Hoffman, all of whom are battling for playing time with the first team. Hoppenot probably still has a long way to go to move ahead of any of those players, but the rookie certainly helped himself with his performance Monday.
On the Union’s first goal, Hoppenot chased down a well-struck long ball from Jimmy McLaughlin and put a shot on net that was saved, but Martinez banged home the rebound. Later, Hoppenot again got behind the defense on a Zach Pfeffer through ball and managed to dribble around New England goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth before depositing the ball into the open net.
Fellow rookie Cristhian Hernandez also scored and Martínez – Hoppenot’s partner up top for much of the game – added another one to complete the scoring for Philly.
“We’ve been playing together at practice every day,” Hoppenot said of his pairing with Martínez. “We’ve been playing against the first team, so we’re getting to know each other. It’s easy to play with him. He does a lot of running, a lot of defense, a lot of work. I just try to find my spots.”
Burke noted Hoppenot could work on picking some of his spots better in the future. But, in general, the reserve team coach was pleased with the rookie’s performance – and with all of the other young players who keyed the victory.
“There are still some things to build on – when to go, when to hold, when to reestablish play in the midfield,” Burke said of Hoppenot. “Right now, it’s kind of all go, all straight ahead – which is fine. I thought for our first time out, the first time as a group, I couldn’t be much happier with how they played.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.