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Hoppenot’s Winner Takes Reno’s Breath Away

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 08/29/18, 12:09PM EDT


95th-minute strike thrilled home crowd in Silver State Cup victory against Lights FC

RENO, Nev. – As the angled pass by Reno 1868 FC’s Guy Abend delivered from just outside the center circle hung in the air, it almost felt like the 5,559 fans in the stands at Greater Nevada Field had held their breath.

When it arrived on the foot of teammate Antoine Hoppenot in the right side of the penalty area two seconds later for a volleyed finish that looped over advancing Las Vegas Lights FC goalkeeper Ricardo Ferriño and into the back of the net, the mass celebration filled the venue with the sort of sound that greets a potentially transformative moment in a club’s season.

Certainly, in breaking a four-game winless streak and claiming victory via a 95th-minute game-winner against your biggest rival, the 2-1 victory for 1868 FC on Tuesday night provided a major lift to the side in what now stands as its signature moment of the season.

“Obviously, it’s one of those moments where you feel like you’re going to get one point and then scoring a goal and getting three points, walking in the locker room kind of feels like you stole two points,” said Hoppenot. “It’s a great feeling, one of those moments that as a team we’ll always remember and hopefully will help us spark some sort of run going into the playoffs.”

Both teams had given plenty in a hard-fought game that saw Reno take a fifth-minute lead through Brian Brown’s 12th goal of the season and Las Vegas answer two minutes into the second half on a fine finish by Carlos Alvarez, but despite late chances for both sides that saw Reno’s Seth Casiple almost catch Ferriño with a free kick directed to the top-right corner and a shot by Las Vegas’ Raul Mendiola that flashed just wide of the right post from the top of the penalty area the game seemed set to end all square, as it had when the teams met at Cashman Field in March.

Instead, Hoppenot’s second goal of the season sent Reno to a victory that moved it further into the safety of the Western Conference’s playoff positions and made Las Vegas’ route to a potential postseason berth that much trickier.

As ebullient as Reno’s locker room was left after its victory, there was the opposite feeling for Lights FC after conceding a stoppage-time goal that cost the side points for a second consecutive game.

“We faced the opponent goal with clear shots all night and were not scoring, and in professional football, if you don't kill, they will kill you,” Lights FC Head Coach Isidro Sánchez said. “I'm proud in a big way, because my team gave everything in the 90-plus minutes.

“Now, I need to make my arguments to make them believe and to fight, fight, fight for the important things still remaining. We need to feel proud of what we still can do.”

After Reno’s feeling of disappointment this past Saturday after its defeat to another rival, Sacramento Republic FC, the need to rebound was certainly felt strongly going into Tuesday night. Now the side sits five points back of fourth-place Republic FC with two games in hand with its sights firmly fixed on taking a top-four spot and a home contest to kick off the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs.

“It was mostly an attitude tonight. We needed to win, and we needed to start the winning streak again,” said Brown. “The last three or four games weren’t good for us, so we wanted to start a winning streak and tonight was the night against a rivalry team. We needed those three points. There was no way we were going to let this team beat us. We want to get back to the top four and that’s what’s pushing us right now.”

With two key road games coming in the next two Saturdays against Fresno FC and Saint Louis FC, putting together the run Reno is looking for to carry it up the standings will be challenging, and then there’s the final meeting of the season with a Las Vegas side that will surely be out for revenge to contend with on September 22 at Greater Nevada Field.

On Tuesday night, though, the side got to exhale after Hoppenot’s late goal lifted the weight it had been bearing since its last victory in mid-July.

“It was way better than it was on Saturday night,” Hoppenot said with a laugh of the mood in the locker room. “But it was great. Obviously, guys are happy, excited about getting a win for the first time in the last month or so, so it was nice to walk into a winning locker room instead of a losing one.”

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