BOYDS, Md. – As reporters swarmed around Antoine Hoppenot, his teammates looked on and yelled, drowning out the music that was blaring in the visiting locker room at the Maryland SoccerPlex.
Call it a welcome-to-the-big-time moment for the Philadelphia Union rookie.
Minutes earlier, the seldom-used Hoppenot delivered the go-ahead goal in extra time to lift the Union to a dramatic 2-1 win over D.C. United in Tuesday’s fourth round US Open Cup matchup.
HIGHLIGHTS: Philadelphia 2, D.C. 1
“I go to sleep thinking about scoring the game-winning goal for the Union,” Hoppenot said. “So to have that happen is incredible.”
Despite having logged only 26 regular-season minutes this year, Hoppenot proved to be the catalyst for the Union offense after coming on as a late second-half sub on Tuesday night.
In fact, before scoring the game-winner on D.C., the 2012 Supplemental Draft pick out of Princeton had a golden opportunity to score on a feed from Michael Farfan during stoppage time of the second half. But United ‘keeper Bill Hamid came up with a huge diving save to keep the game level at 1-1.
Afterwards, Union midfielder Brian Carroll joked, “I think he just wanted to play some extra minutes.” And Peter Nowak said with a smile, “That’s why I have so many gray hairs right now.”
But the Union manager also praised Hoppenot for fighting back and getting the goal at the start of the first extra session, which came on a through ball from Freddy Adu.
“He’s got the speed that allowed him to go behind the defense and he got rewarded for it,” Nowak said. “He’s good at this. I think he deserved to score this goal. He was very anxious to score.”
Hoppenot said that after misfiring on such a great opportunity at the end of regulation, his teammates told him he was going to get another chance and to make sure he put that one away.
He did. And then he nearly put another one away on a well-struck shot from distance that pinged off the crossbar.
“I was feeling it,” Hoppenot said. “The ball felt good today.”
Hoppenot’s big-time game was a surprising one, if you consider that the Princeton product came into the season as the club’s No. 6 striker and was previously loaned to the Harrisburg City Islanders, Philly’s USL-Pro affiliate who they will now play in the USOC quarterfinals on June 26.
But after seeing action in the last two USOC games – and with Wednesday’s trade of third-year striker Danny Mwanga – the speedy Hoppenot seems to be really climbing the depth charts.
Will he begin to get more minutes in league games?
“I hope so,” he said. “That’s up to coach Nowak. If they throw me in the game, I’m happy to go out there and put on a good showing. Hopefully this will get me another chance and hopefully I’ll do something good then.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.