By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philadelphia Union go for a fourth straight MLS win on Saturday afternoon as they visit the New York Red Bulls.
It has been a startling transformation for this team which staggered out to a 2-7-2 start. That led to John Hackworth taking over as team manager on an interim basis for Peter Nowak.
With Hackworth at the helm, Philadelphia has gone 4-2. In addition to the change at the top, some other changes in personnel have helped turned things around. Of course, the unleashing of forward Jack McInerney has been the most obvious, but another key has been the emergence of rookie forward Antoine Hoppenot.
Hoppenot was selected with the 51st pick of the 2012 MLS Supplemental Draft out of Princeton. He was a non-factor for the season’s first two months in MLS action, playing a grand total of one minute. But then he came off the bench and played 25 effective minutes against Toronto FC, in what would prove to be Nowak’s last MLS match with the Union. Since then, Hoppenot has played around 25-30 minutes a game on a consistent basis, entering games midway through the second half and turning heads with his speed. Speed which has helped him net two goals.
“It’s been a dream for the past few months right now,” Hoppenot tells KYW Newsradio. “It’s been going fantastic. This is what I’ve always wanted to do and it’s coming together right now a little bit so it’s incredible for me.”
Listen to Matt Leon’s entire interview with Antoine Hoppenot.
It is pretty rare to get this kind of production from a late pick in a supplemental draft, especially as a rookie. Hoppenot himself admits, that his playing time has been a pleasant surprise.
“When I was coming in, I was trying to get a contract. You come in to the preseason without a contract, you’re just working for the contract so you’re not even thinking about playing time at that point, you’re just thinking about making the team and trying to help the team as much as possible at practice. I got an opportunity to play and Coach Hack thought I did well, so he kept playing me and it’s been going well. So this is incredible.”
When did he feel like he truly had arrived as a pro?
“My first goal, I scored against Kansas City was definitely one of those moments where I was like, I scored a goal, an MLS goal is something that I dreamed about doing for a long time now. I’m starting to become an important part, maybe, of the team and I can do something to really help the team win games.”
Philadelphia is 9th in the 10 team MLS Eastern Conference, but this run has moved them up to within four points of the 6th place Montreal Impact. New York is second in the conference with 35 points and Hoppenot says the Red Bulls present quite a challenge.
“They are very good. They are in the playoff hunt – they need three points just as much as we do. So we’re going up there, we’re expecting a battle. And it’s a rivalry game, so we really want to beat them.”
As for what they need to do to make it four straight wins.
“I think we just need to be able to play together. Defensively, we just need to make sure that we’re able to stay together. They’ve got a lot of fire power up top. They got a lot of goals between them. So we know we need to make sure that we keep them in check. So if we play together defensively that will help us create chances offensively if we are able to keep them from scoring on us.”
New York, by the way, is the new home of former Union star Sébastien Le Toux, who was traded over from Vancouver earlier this month.
Philadelphia lost to the Red Bulls in their first meeting this season, 3-2, in Chester, back on May 13th.
First kick on Saturday is set for 2:30pm.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.