Photo: Paul Rudderow
Editor’s note: At the end of each of the last two seasons, we posted a series of “Raves” about our favorite Philadelphia players. They need not be the team’s best players, but they’re guys and gals we like. Over the next two weeks, we continue the series with some of PSP writers’ and contributors’ favorite Philadelphia players of 2012.
As PSP editor Dan Walsh has noted, nobody likes playing against Antoine Hoppenot. While not a large man, Hoppenot is muscular and strong and has blazing speed. Defenders hate an attacker with speed, especially when that attacker also refuses to be intimidated by physical play. So, when getting beat, the options are simple: let him go or take him down. And if you find said speedy attacker to be a little bit of a jerk, too, well, that’s not really a choice at all.
So far in his career, getting fouled may be Antoine Hoppenot’s best skill. He’s still raw as a finisher, and his tactical knowledge is still growing, but he knows how to get ahead of his man and behind a defense. Once he does—and this is where I wish he was mic’ed up, just to hear what it is he says to opposing players that riles them so completely—other teams seem to have no compunction about kicking out at him, tripping him up, or shoving him straight to the deck. We all remember the Nelson Rivas headbutt. Against New England, he got Benny Feilhaber yellow-carded twice! If that’s not talent, I don’t know what is.
But it’s not simply that Hopp gets fouled a lot—those fouls have been important ones. By my count, Hoppenot has drawn two penalty kicks this season and was fouled for at least one other that wasn’t given. If we assigned the resulting goals to him, he’d have a very respectable 5 goals (or 6, with the phantom pen) in 701 minutes of play, which would be far and away the best goals/minutes-played average on the team.
More than just muscle
However, let’s not get carried away with the physical side of Hoppenot’s game. While it’s true that he’s behind in his development as compared to his younger but more experienced teammate Jack McInerney, Hopp’s game isn’t just his speed and strength and edge. He is a Princeton man after all. The former All-Ivy player played for four years at Princeton University, and it’s clear that he’s got smarts to go with everything else.
Drawing penalties, for instance, is about more than simply being in the right place at the right time. It’s about understanding what defenders are doing and, more importantly, what they are about to do. Hopp’s goal against Chicago was equally heady, the result of quick thinking and excellent balance and body control.
Most of all, Hoppenot understands why he’s used the way he is by John Hackworth, and he understands what it is about his own play that makes him dangerous. Hopp plays within himself, doing the things he knows he does well, and only forcing the issue when there’s no support to be had.
The French Connection
I know it’s silly, but something about the fact he’s French also endears young Antoine to me. I’m one that still misses our original Frenchman, Sébastien Le Toux, and knowing that we have another on the squad just feels right to me. Yes, that’s dumb and irrational, but I feel it, all the same.
The sky’s the limit
In the end, though, what I think is most exciting about Antoine Hoppenot is what is to yet come from him. Right now, he is what he is—an electric late-game sub without the stamina or the guile to lead a team from the front for 90 minutes. But this is a man who was chosen in the third round of the MLS Supplemental Draft—not the regular draft, the supplemental draft. He’s essentially the equivalent of the free t-shirt you get for opening a checking account, and yet he’s the Union’s second-most dangerous forward. Some might take that as an indictment of the depth (or lack thereof) of our striker core, but what I see is a player who has come on by giant leaps and bounds, and who shows no signs of slowing down.
So here’s to the future, where our very own Princeton Cannon continues to score goals and irritate opposing players for years to come.