CHESTER, Pa. – Many players might say they don’t like to sit on the bench for most of the game.
Antoine Hoppenot is not one of those players.
In fact, the Philadelphia Union rookie striker says he prefers to come on as a late-game substitute, where he can take advantage of his speed and provide an offensive burst just as everyone else’s legs are getting heavy.
“It’s great for me,” Hoppenot said. “I get to come in with 30 minutes left and their defenders are dead tired after chasing Jack [McInerney] for 60 minutes. … They don’t want to run after me. I love it.”
WATCH: Hoppenot chips Nielsen
After playing just one minute through the Union’s first 10 games, Hoppenot has made the most of his newfound role as one of the team’s top offensive threats off the bench.
The rookie out of Princeton scored the overtime winner in Philly’s US Open Cup triumph over D.C. United on June 5, hit the post against D.C. United on June 16, and netted his first league goal – and first at PPL Park – to cap off Philly’s 4-0 rout of Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.
“That was unbelievable,” Hoppenot said following Saturday’s win. “I can’t even describe it. I hit the post last weekend and I really wanted to get one tonight. The fans are fantastic. I’m happy I could score one for them, even though it was the fourth one. I’m happy I got to hear them Doop it up for me.”
Hoppenot is certainly becoming a fan favorite at PPL Park, and it’s easy to see why.
Not long before splitting the defense, gathering a brilliant through ball from Michael Farfan and chipping a shot over SKC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen and into the back of the net, Hoppenot tried to do the exact same thing but his chip sailed well high.
“We knew Antoine was going to create some problems and be dangerous,” interim Union manager John Hackworth said. “I’m surprised he went for the chip again. But that’s confidence for you.”
Hoppenot also showed a tremendous amount of confidence when he got behind the defense again, collected another long through ball and this time dribbled by Aurélien Collin, forcing the SKC defender to take him down in the box.
The play led to the team’s third goal – on a penalty kick from fellow forward Lionard Pajoy. It also highlighted the Union striker’s unlikely rise; Collin is arguably the league’s best defender while Hoppenot was a third-round pick in the 2012 MLS Supplemental Draft.
“It’s been a great ride,” the rookie said. “It’s a testament to how great [my teammates] are that they’re able to trust a guy that might not have all of the accolades as some of the other guys. But I came in and they treated me just like one of theirs. That gave me the confidence I could play at this level.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.