Even though they were up a man for more than 80 minutes of Saturday’s game against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Philadelphia Union were unable to find the back of the net for most of the contest.
The solution? Change the lineup.
In the 85th minute, the Union finally broke through thanks to second-half subs Antoine Hoppenot and Aaron Wheeler combining for a pretty goal that propelled Philly to a 1-0 win over 10-man Vancouver.
“Good players make coaches look good sometimes, and [Hoppenot] certainly did that,” Union manager John Hackworth said. “I thought Aaron Wheeler came on and did a great job. I thought Fabinho came in and did a good job. We’re a team that way. Every time we bring a guy off the bench, they’ve contributed this year. Once again, that was the case today.”
COMPLETE BOX SCORE AND MATCH STATISTICS
Hackworth admitted that the Union were not at their best in the first half following the 8th-minute red card shown to Vancouver’s Jun Marques Davidson, saying they played an “undisciplined” brand of soccer.
But after patiently wearing the hosts down and making some key subs, the Union finally got on the board when Hoppenot scored his third goal of the season after receiving a nifty back-heel pass from Wheeler.
“We needed to be a little more creative than we were in the first half and you certainly see that in the play where Wheeler back-heels it to Antoine and it’s a great little finish from Antoine,” Hackworth said. “I felt like it was going to happen. We had a couple of chances and had turned a corner. We were a little unfortunate not to have one earlier.”
Hoppenot and Wheeler have made only one start apiece this season but they have proved to be effective subs. Hoppenot now has three goals and two assists in less than 500 minutes, while Wheeler has a goal and an assist in less than 100 minutes.
Hoppenot has been in that role for more than a year and is often called the team’s “super sub” by Hackworth.
OPTA CHALKBOARD: How the Union's three subs changed the game
“It’s awesome,” Hoppenot said. “It’s why coach puts me in the game. He wants me to score goals. I’m happy to be able to do it.”
Putting Hoppenot into Saturday’s game certainly paid big dividends, allowing the Union to improve to 4-4-3 on the road this season while handing the Whitecaps their first home loss of 2013.
“I think it shows we don’t go on the road and play for a draw,” Hackworth said. “We made three attacking changes in the second half. We changed our formation. We were trying to get three points. That was important to us.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.