U.S. U-20 MNT’s Zach Pfeffer Benefits from ‘Unorthodox Path’ Abroad
Philadelphia Union Forward Took Away Valuable Experience at Hoffenheim to Expand his Game
U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team forward Zach Pfeffer has quite the resume at a young age. From signing with Major League Soccer’s Philadelphia Union at age 15 to spending a year with Hoffenheim in Germany, the 19-year-old Pfeffer has already had a busy professional career.
Pfeffer, like many other athletes, played multiple sports as a youth. But since he was 3 years old, he naturally gravitated toward soccer and has dedicated his time to following the dream of playing the sport at the highest level.
“For whatever reason – I don’t know the exact reason – but soccer was my favorite sport to play,” said Pfeffer, who recently scored the game-winning goal for the U.S. U-20 MNT during a 2-1 victory against Chile at the 2014 National Training Center Invitational. “It was my passion. I took that, ran with it, trained as much as possible, watched and studied the game as much as possible, and just tried to be the best player that I could be. I’ve always had that goal, that mindset to be a professional player since I was very young. I’ve tried to focus in on that goal and work hard for it.”
The goal to become a professional player came to fruition just before his 16th birthday when he signed a professional contract with the Union. Pfeffer has played with the first team on numerous occasions, appearing in eight MLS games to date and multiple friendlies.
“I’ve been in that professional environment now for about four years,” said Pfeffer, who also has ties to the Development Academy’s FC DELCO. “It’s a little bit unorthodox of a path for a typical American player. I’ve been able to grow and mature and be a part of the Union for the last four years and I think that’s helped me to grow and progress as a player.”
Pfeffer was away from the Union organization for one year as he was loaned to German club Hoffenheim, where he played mostly with the U-19s. He also made appearances with the U-23s (the reserve team) and took part in multiple training sessions with the first team. U.S. U-20 MNT teammate Russell Canouse was is part of the Hoffenheim club, providing Pfeffer with some familiarity.
It was a valuable time for Pfeffer as both a player and a person.
“It was a great experience,” Pfeffer said. “I was by myself in a foreign country for the first time for an extended period of time; it wasn’t just a few weeks, it was for a whole year. I was forced to learn the language as well. All of those things really make you grow up and make you learn more about yourself. You have to become independent and really mature quickly.”
Being exposed to the German style has contributed to his improvement as a player. It has helped to round out his game and apply it as he plays for the U.S. U-20 MNT and in MLS.
“I think as a soccer player it’s always good to be exposed to different styles of play and different cultures,” Pfeffer said. “You want to be as well-rounded of a player as you can be. I’m just trying to mix everything that I’ve learned from the German style of play with what I’ve learned growing up here in the U.S. and what I’m learning now playing in MLS.”
Playing in the Youth National Team system since his early teenage years, Pfeffer sees familiar faces every time he comes to camp with the U-20s. He has played with or against keeper Zack Steffen and Canouse since he was 13 in a club setting or within the U.S. National Team system.
With his long history with the U.S. MNT and impressive club and professional career thus far, Pfeffer is hoping to add the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup to his list.
“I’m very excited,” Pfeffer said. “I’ve been representing the National Team since U-14. This is just the next step and the next part of the progression through the National Team system . It’s obviously very exciting to be able to represent your country. Hopefully I’ll be able to be a part of that and qualify for the World Cup.”