Extra motivation is not necessary for Antoine Hoppenot.
He doesn’t need pep talks or reasons to be ultra-competitive.
The diminutive 5-foot-8, 155-pound Hoppenot is plenty self-motivated. Every training session. Every film session. Every practice game. Every game. He performs with such high intensity that any coach would love to see on a daily basis.
In fact, Hoppenot’s teammates have even called him “annoying,” a “pest” and “nasty” during those training sessions.
Hoppenot takes all of it as a major compliment. He should.
“I’m ready to go out there and prove myself every single day in practice,” Hoppenot was saying after a recent training session at YSC Sports. “The guys we brought in are the right guys to be brought in. We have bigger target guys with experience. I love playing with a bigger guy up top because it can help me to keep working hard. … I’ve always kind of played on teams that weren’t as nationally recognized. My club team wasn’t a big name and then I played in the Ivy League.
“It’s not necessarily one of the big conferences where soccer players get recognition. I feel like I’ve always had to fight for my spot. That’s what I love to do. That’s what I want to do. I like the competition and I’m out there fighting for everything. I treat every practice as a game day.”
The second-year forward really blossomed as last season went on. He wound up with four goals and one assist in 25 league matches. More than the numbers, Hoppenot proved his mettle with his tireless work ethic and ability to provide energy while making things happen on the pitch.
And it would tick off the opposition, too.
There were elbows flying his way and even one brutal headbutt by Montreal’s Nelson Rivas last August which caused a nasal bone fracture.
Hoppenot bounced back like he has always done in the past.
Now he’s excited to begin his sophomore season in MLS.
“It helps a lot,” Hoppenot said of having that year of experience. “You kind of know what you’re getting yourself into. You know what the coaches are looking for. You know what the other players are looking for. You played with these guys last season so you know where they’re going to be and they know where you want the ball. It’s great on the field. It’s great off the field, too, because you’ve already made relationships with all the players. You continue to make relationships.
“It’s only a few days in, but as a second-year player, you definitely feel a lot more comfortable. It’s been great so far. Last year was a great year. I just want to build off that and hopefully, this year is even better.”
Hoppenot scored 26 goals and added 15 assists in his college career at Princeton, but he slipped all the way to Philadelphia as pick No. 51 in the Supplemental Draft. Hoppenot scored his first career MLS goal in a 4-0 win over Sporting Kansas City on June 23 last season at PPL Park. He added one more against Toronto FC on July 8. His first-ever goal with the Union happened to be the game-winner in a 2-1 victory over D.C. United in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup June 5 at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, MD.
When John Hackworth took over for Peter Nowak in June, Hoppenot seemed to elevate his game. There was a trust that had been built over time between Hoppenot and Hackworth.
“It was incredible,” Hoppenot said of Hackworth’s belief in him. “Even under coach Nowak, (Hackworth) would talk to me as an assistant and would tell me, ‘I’m rooting for you. I’m trying to get you in the 18.’ Even as an assistant, he showed a lot of trust in me. I’ve always felt he had trust in me. I appreciated that. That’s something you don’t always get depending on what coach you get. I feel fortunate and I owe a lot to him.”
Hoppenot started three league matches and hopes to become a consistent 90-minute player. No matter the circumstances, he’ll continue to prepare the same way.
“I practice the same way no matter what,” Hoppenot said. “I’m going out there, trying to practice and prepare the same way every day. On game day, if I know I’m starting versus coming off the bench, there’s a bit of a difference. It’s a different mentality, if you’re going to start because you have to be a little more cautious of all your runs. Really, it’s the same preparation all week.
“One of the places, I feel a lot smarter overall is in terms of knowing when to make a run, when to post up, when to push off. I’m not necessarily stronger, but I’m using my strength a lot smarter which makes it easier to get balls in good spots. All these things have been important in how I prepare every day.”
He never stopped preparing after his rookie season. It simply continued in the offseason.
“I was actually in Philly and pretty much played here four-five days a week,” Hoppenot said. “I took one vacation … spent a week in Chicago and a few days in London. It was good. When I was in London, I went to go watch Arsenal and Liverpool. It was nice, staying in soccer mode.”
Contact Union writer Andy Jasner at firstname.lastname@example.org