The Harrisburg City Islanders upset the Major League Soccer bound Orlando City FC in the opening round of the United Soccer League – Pro playoffs advancing to play the Richmond Kickers in the semifinals.
The lone goal of the match was scored by Philadelphia Union forward and Princeton University graduate Antoine Hoppenot. As the Union’s USL-Pro affiliate City Islanders receives MLS players on loan.
Compared to other MLS and USL Pro affiliates the facilities are relatively close at a two hour drive. This allows the Paris born, but Princeton raised Hoppenot certain advantages. Antoine Hopponet explains, “Most of the time I practice with the Union and I go play games with Harrisburg.”
“There is nothing better than playing. You don’t really learn anything if you are not playing. So that was my thinking when I ask the Union to let me go play for Harrisburg for a few games.” Hoppenot admits, “I enjoyed my time so much that I kept coming back and kept requesting to be sent there.”
The addition of the 23-year-old forward, along with a few other Union players on loan, make the eighth seeded Islanders among the favorites to win the USL Pro championship. It is a credit to the organization that a young player that earned in his first two seasons 25 and 30 caps, respectively, would want to leave the first team and play for the lower division side.
At Princeton, Hoppenot’s team failed to advance in the NCAA tournaments in 2010 and 2011. In an essay he wrote for the Athlete Story he describes the heartbreak and anguish of losing in 2011 as a tournament favorite. The Islanders’ victory was the first playoff win in his professional or collegiate career.
“There is nothing better than to win a playoff game on the road against a heavy favorite,” Hoppenot said.
MLS players on loan scoring in USL Pro playoff games is nothing new. Dom Dwyer of Sporting Kansas City shuttled between the parent club and Orlando City last season. Dwyer returned to Orlando City for the championship match and scored a hat-trick in their 7-4 victory over the Charlotte Eagles.
It may seem like poetic justice that a player loaned out from the MLS knocked out Orlando City, but MLS influence on the league will be the norm in the future rather than the exception.
Regardless, for the City Islanders and Hoppenot it is working to the benefit of both parties. Harrisburg City gets a top division striker to fill the void left by double-digit goal-scorers Lucky Mkosana and Sainey Touray, who both signed with North American Soccer League clubs this season. While Hoppenot gets first team training and precious caps in competitive conditions.