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MLS 2011 Preview: Zach Pfeffer Is Definitely Young, But Don't Let That Fool You

At just 16 years of age, Zach Pfeffer is living a life that most kids his age can only dream of. Born in Dresher, Pa. in January 1995, Pfeffer played for local youth soccer powerhouse FC Delco throughout most of his young life. During his time at Delco, the midfielder honed his talents under a coaching staff that has produced many MLS players, including Seattle Sounders defender Jeff Parke, Colorado Rapids midfielder Jeff Larentowicz and DC United head coach Ben Olsen. Pfeffer was frequently called up to various U.S. youth national teams, including the U-14’s and U-15’s, before earning a place in the Spring 2010 semester of Bradenton Academy, the U.S. U-17 national team’s residency program.

Zach Pfeffer

Position: Midfielder

Team: Philadelphia Union

Nationality: United States

Age: 16

Despite being one of the youngest players in the league appears to be impressing coaches and could get significant playing time.

Team App. Goals
United States U-17
1 0

That was when Pfeffer began making waves. After completing his semester in Bradenton, he was identified by the Union’s assistant coach, John Hackworth, as an exceptional prospect. Pfeffer was invited to train with the Union first team, and he achieved a rare feat for a player his age when he appeared in the second half of a friendly match at PPL Park between the Union and Mexican side Chivas de Guadalajara. The young midfielder continued to train with the first team throughout the 2010 season before being offered a unique opportunity to travel to Germany to train with TSG Hoffenheim of the Bundesliga. He impressed the Hoffenheim coaches, who reportedly wanted him to stay in Germany.

But the Union were not prepared to let him slip through their fingers. Within weeks of Pfeffer’s return to the U.S., he accepted an offer to become the Union’s first ever Home Grown player at just 15 years of age in December 2010. He became the fourth-youngest player ever to be signed to an MLS contract behind only Freddy Adu, Faud Ibrahim, and newly signed New England Revolution Home Grown Player Diego Fagundez. Pfeffer, now 16, has been with the Union throughout the entire 2011 preseason, and he made headlines with a 40-yard wonder goal that he scored in a friendly against the University of Central Florida. Pfeffer is a midfielder who likes to get involved in the attack. He is comfortable out on the wings or in the middle, and has been described by the Union coaching staff as being on par with many of his MLS teammates when it comes to technical skill.

What can Pfeffer do to improve his game?

Pfeffer still has a lot of work to do if he is going to compete for playing time in MLS. He must improve his size and strength, and must get accustomed to the physicality of the league. The fact that he has been with the Union from the start of the 2011 season bodes well for him though, as he has been going up against seasoned veterans like Danny Califf and Brian Carroll every day in training. Pfeffer must also continue to mature as a person, as he is still very young and is not used to the life of a professional athlete.

How will you know when he's figuring it all out?

Given that Pfeffer is still only 16 and has yet to appear in an official MLS match, it will be difficult to make a proper assessment of his development throughout the 2011 season. Pfeffer doesn’t even have his driver's license yet, and his mother drives him to practice every day. So it may take time to judge how he his coming along. Having said that, the Union coaching staff has said on numerous occasions that he will compete for playing time this season. If Pfeffer can get regular minutes in the Reserve Division and settle in with his new teammates, he will probably get onto the field once or twice in an official match. This will be a strong indicator that Pfeffer is moving in the right direction.

What's a reasonable expectation in terms of production and playing time?

During the 2011 season, Pfeffer will see the large majority of his playing time in the Reserve Division. With the current Union roster only featuring five defenders, many players will be relied on to play in different positions for the Union Reserves in order to create a feasible back line. Most of these players will be midfielders, since the Union has a large number of them and some can move to defense. This should open up a spot for Pfeffer and he should be starting the majority of the reserve team’s games. After Pfeffer revealed his wonderful finishing ability in the University of Central Florida friendly match, one can expect him to score at least a few goals with the Reserves, and he should pick up an assist or two to boot. And if he can make it onto the field with the first team, then this season should be considered a rousing success for the 16-year-old.

What's the ceiling on Pfeffer?

John Hackworth, the Union’s assistant coach, has referred to Pfeffer as a generational talent and a player who is already at an MLS level in terms of technical and tactical ability. It’s his physicality and overall size that needs to improve. That’s high praise, especially coming from a guy who coached the U.S. Under-17 national team at two U-17 World Cups. If Pfeffer continues to develop and eventually get playing time with the Union first team, there’s no reason to believe that he could eventually earn caps with the U.S. senior national team. If all goes well for him, he could develop into a player in the mold of Bolton Wanderers and former Houston Dynamo midfielder Stuart Holden. If that’s the case, then the Union will be quite pleased with their young talisman.

- Report by Joey Samuel of Brotherly Game (Philadelphia Union blog)