Pfeffer, 19, im­press­ing Union staff

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - SPORTS - By MATTHEW De GE­ORGE

UP­PER ME­RION — The an­tic­i­pa­tion in Philadel­phia Union cir­cles sur­round­ing Zach Pfeffer makes it easy to for­get that he’s only 19 years old.

In his fourth pre­sea­son with the club, hopes are high that his place in the first team is on the hori­zon, as­pi­ra­tions aided by a suc­cess­ful stint in 2013 in the youth setup of Ger­man club Hof­fen­heim.

It’s a lot to put on most 19-yearolds, but it’s noth­ing new for the na­tive of Dresher. His ar­rival in MLS — signed as the Union’s first home­grown player in 2010 just be­fore his 16th birth­day, then the third-youngest signee in league his­tory, and handed his de­but in 2011 — in­vites the hype.

But what Pfeffer and the club are fo­cused on is his in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ment, and the con­sen­sus is that he’s been one of the more im­pres­sive per­form­ers of the first week of Union camp at YSC Sports.

The diminu­tive Pfeffer is never go­ing to be a phys­i­cally im­pos­ing pres­ence, but at 5-8 and 145 pounds, he’s grown into a stur­dier at­tack­ing mid­fielder more likely to ab­sorb the rig­ors of MLS. His tech­ni­cal abil­ity has al­ways been ob­vi­ous, but his stint in Ger­many has helped shore up the off-field as­pects of the game.

“I think there’s a lot of things, in all as­pects of the game,” Pfeffer said. “I think the big­gest thing I can take away is that Ger­man men­tal­ity of ev­ery day show­ing up, be­ing tough in train­ing ev­ery day, giv­ing it 100 per­cent and al­ways fight­ing for a spot.”

His res­i­dency in Hof­fen­heim was a big step in ma­tur­ing as a player and a teen, and his ap­proach to this off­sea­son sounds more like that of a three-year vet­eran than a 19-year-old.

“I’ve been with the team a few years al­ready, so with each year, I’m get­ting more and more ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said. “And ob­vi­ously be­ing over in Europe, I was in a dif­fer­ent coun­try, dif­fer­ent cul­ture, and I learned a lot of dif­fer­ent styles of play, so I think I’ve just con­tinue to grow and that’s made me more pre­pared.”

Both player and club have tried to dif­fuse the ex­pec­ta­tions around Pfeffer, and the mid­field re­build this off­sea­son lessens the onus on Pfeffer to be the in­jec­tion of cre­ativ­ity the club des­per­ately needed af­ter last sea­son. That gives the club a lit­tle more time to de­velop its in­vest­ment.

“I’ve spo­ken with (the coaches) since I’ve been back as well and be­fore I started camp,” Pfeffer said. “The ex­pec­ta­tion is that I’m com­ing in and show­ing them ev­ery­thing I’ve learned, and hope­fully that’s go­ing to trans­late to min­utes on the field.”

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