Philly Sports Live

Union’s Pfeffer Taking His Talents to Baden-Württemberg

Philadelphia Union Home-Grown Player and US Youth National Teamer Zach Pfeffer will miss the 2013 MLS season, but it’s not bad news.  The 17 year-old FC Delco product will be headed to Germany in January, where he will join TSV 1899 Hoffenheim on a year long loan.  Pfeffer is expected to play for the Bundesliga club’s reserve side, which fields a team in the German 4th division.  Hoffenheim is home to three US national team player: Danny Williams, Fabian Johnson & Joe Gyau, currently on loan himself to FC St Pauli, and one of Pfeffer’s US Youth National Teammates, Russell Canouse.

The Union also announced that they have picked up Pfeffer’s contract option, meaning he will rejoin the team in time for the 2014 season.

Pfeffer made the front page of the Philadelphia Daily News in 2010 when he signed as the Union’s first home-grown player.  Home-grown is a designation given by MLS to players who have spent at least a year training with a team’s academy or youth teams, and are not subject to the MLS Superdraft.  Signing at age 15, Pfeffer became the youngest professional athlete in the history of the state of Pennsylvania, and the second youngest in MLS history at that time.  He made his debut in a friendly against Chivas de Guadalajara in 2011.  The loan will give Pfeffer, who given his age and size has struggled to gain minutes with the Union’s first team, a chance to play regular competitive matches.  Pfeffer is the first MLS homegrown player to obtain a loan to a European club. (Update:  There is some debate if Tristen Bowen was still a HGP when he went on loan to Roeselare.  Hat tip to @Howie_OT of Soccer Over There.)

The Union and Hoffenheim have built a productive relationship over the last several years.  In addition to Pfeffer’s two previous training stints, fellow Union product Jimmy McLaughlin spent time with the German club earlier this year, and Hoffenheim reserve team captain Kai Herdling spent a largely unmemorable loan spell in Chester during the waning days of Piotr Nowak’s tenure.

While the loan is good news for the Union and Pfeffer, it does point to the commonly acknowledged gap in US player development between Academy teams and MLS sides, one highlighted in recent days by the number of homegrown and Generation Adidas players cut by MLS sides once their salary cap-exemptions have expired.  The Union deserves credit for being creative in finding playing time for one of their brightest prospects, but without serious investment in the reserve league and reform of the college game, players progressing from the Academy to the first team in MLS may continue to be the exception rather than the widely desired rule.