Photo: Earl Gardner
Editor’s note: At the end of the first two Philadelphia Union seasons, we posted a series of end of the season reviews of every Union player. Over the next several weeks, PSP continues with a review of the 2012 season.
A one minute appearance as a time-burning sub in the Philadelphia Union’s first win of 2012 hardly made Antoine Hoppenot a household name. In fact, it probably made some Union fans wonder when Jack McInerney changed his name and were they supposed to pronounce that final “t” or not?
But when the winds of change blew open the first team doors for Amobi Okugo and Jack McInerney, they also swept through the oft-random selections of Peter Nowak’s bench and brought forth a game-changing 12th man. Time and again Hoppenot reignited the PPL Park powderkeg just by dragging his flinted feet across the near touchline in or around the 60th minute.
Hoppenot appeared in every game once John Hackworth took over as Union head coach. He racked up four goals and an assist, two yellow cards, 18 (!) offsides and a received headbutt in just over 800 minutes on the field.
As the focal point of the Princeton offense, Hoppenot spent a lot of time on the ball in college. The professional game, and the role he was asked to play in it, forced Hoppenot to adjust on the fly. No longer granted time, space, or the chance to grow into a game, the rookie was lucky to get more than 10 touches once he entered the fray. More often than not, these touches were taken at full speed with a hulking MLS defender frothily gurgling at his wake.
To say Hoppenot annoyed defenders is an understatement on par with saying post-midnight pizza is mildly satisfying. He brought a go-hard-or-go-home attitude that comes from earning your way into the substitutes rotation. He brought the movement and energy that plays into the skillset of Michael Farfan and Freddy Adu. That he also brought a youthful disregard for the whereabouts of the second-to-last defender can be laughed off after year one. He went to Princeton. We can trust that he will learn to look before leaning, right?
Many to choose from. But, in the end, the choice is easy:
The month of August. After flying out of the gate, Hoppenot earned his first start on July 29 against New England. One shot and three fouls suffered were all he put together in 78 minutes. In the next five matches, Hoppenot managed only one shot on goal and three total shots in a combined 160 minutes. This dip in performance coincided with the first five parts of an eight-game winless miniseries that saw the offense produce a mere four goals.
Speed and movement. Oh, and energy.
The number one goal for a substitute is to change the tenor of a match as quickly as possible. For a team in the lead, a substitute should come in and calm things down. For a team searching for a goal, the sub needs to frazzle the defense and raise anxiety levels where calmness once reigned. Hoppenot became a master of pulling central defenders out of position. One of his favorite targets was Kansas City center back Aurelin Collin. In the midst of a career year, the All-Star defender couldn’t get near Hoppenot and practically perfected the art of the mistimed lunge whenever the two players occupied the same area of the field.
The starts. Three times in the first eleven and three times it wasn’t just the “t” that was silent. Two shots on goal in 202 minutes as a starter is nothing to write home about, even if your original home is Paris, France. Hoppenot’s couilles-to-the-wall style didn’t translate against fresh first half legs, though his effort level remained high throughout his lengthier appearances. His best performance as a starter was a 67-minute showing against New England in a scoreless draw. Unfortunately for Hoppenot’s chances of starting in the future, there were some U-10 strikers and at least one dynamic, yet raw, squirrel who also ran circles around the case study in learned helplessness that was the 2012 Revolution defense.
Along with second year finisher Chandler Hoffman, Hoppenot will be one of the first names John Hackworth calls off the bench in 2013. He will be given plenty of chances to show that he can continue to turn defenders in cartoonish circles late in matches, and as he gains experience his offside numbers should dwindle (slightly).
Hoppenot is not going to lead the Union line any time soon, but he looks to be the type of player that belongs on the Union roster and in the Union locker room. Anybody who missed his interviews with PSP’s Eli Pearlman-Storch should stop reading this and go check them out immediately. If there is one player on the Philadelphia Union who is least likely to forget the wonder of professional sports—you get to live out a lifelong dream but have to beat the crap out of everyone else living out their own dream—it is Antoine Hoppenot. That attitude should always have a place on a Union squad made up of players who went from playoff contenders to bottom-feeders — and who want to bounce the other way in 2013.
Stat chart legend:
POS: Position; GP: Games Played; GS: Games Started; MINS: Minutes; PA: Passes Attempted; PC: Passes Completed; P%: Passing Accuracy Percentage; G: Goals; A: Assists; SOG: Shots on Goal; SOG/S%: Percentage of Shots that are on Goal; G/SOG%: Percentage of Shots on Goal Converted; SC%: Scoring Percentage; G/90min: Goals per 90 minutes; Hm G: Home Goals; Rd G: Road Goals; FC: Fouls Committed; FS: Fouls Suffered; YC: Yellow Cards; RC: Red Cards