CHESTER, Pa. – Antoine Hoppenot called it a “dream come true” to earn his first career MLS start this past Sunday against the New England Revolution.
Now the question is if the Philadelphia Union rookie will remain in the starting XI.
During his weekly press conference Wednesday, interim manager John Hackworth said he wouldn’t reveal his lineup for Saturday’s game against the Montreal Impact at Saputo Stadium, but indicated he might go back to the more experienced Lionard Pajoy, who’s started 15 of the club’s 19 games this season.
“A guy like Antoine did really well in his first start, but now we’re going away and playing in a very tough environment against a team that has been very good at home,” Hackworth said. “So we have to think about what can allow us the chance to have the most success there.”
Hoppenot’s inclusion in the Union’s last lineup was surprising, if only because he had been so effective using his game-changing speed and tenaciousness as a second-half sub. But Hackworth rewarded the rookie for his strong play over the past two months and replaced him in the starting XI with Pajoy, the team’s co-leader with five goals.
According to the Union manager, the 31-year-old Colombian handled the change like a pro.
“Honestly, he’s one of the best guys I’ve been around in just making sure whenever he’s asked to do something he does it 100 percent,” Hackworth said of Pajoy. “He’s started a lot for us and has been good for us that way, but if you look at the times when he comes off the bench, he’s been incredible in that way, too. We’ve been pretty successful in the last six weeks both with him starting and coming off the bench.”
Like Pajoy, Hoppenot is also willing to either start or come off the bench. It’s all about what’s asked of him.
“If he wants me to play 30, I’ll play 30,” the rookie out of Princeton said. “If he wants me to be a practice player, I’ll be a practice player. I’ll play 90 if he wants me to play 90. I’m ready for anything.”
What’s interesting is that Hoppenot said earlier in the season that he preferred to come off the bench where he could take advantage of the tired legs of defenders.
Preparing to play a full game, the rookie noted, was different because you “can’t just gas yourself in the first 15 minutes like I would normally do coming off the bench.” But Hoppenot was generally pleased with how he performed in his starting debut, calling the 78 minutes he put in against the Revs a “good learning experience.”
“I like coming off the bench,” he said. “But I like starting, too. I just like playing.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.