Philadelphia Union ease teenager Zach Pfeffer into midfield minutes: "Hopefully we see more of him"

CHESTER, Pa. – During the second half of the Philadelphia Union’s stinging 5-3 loss to the New England Revolution on Saturday, the restless Sons of Ben supporters group started a “We want Pfeffer” chant.

Few would argue that 19-year-old Zach Pfeffer is the savior for a Union team struggling to get wins right now.

But after manager John Hackworth answered the fans’ call and gave Pfeffer his season debut, many seem optimistic that the franchise’s first-ever Homegrown signing will finally earn a place in the team’s rotation.

“If there’s a bright spot or positive, it’s that Pfeffer came on and played well,” Hackworth said after the game. “He’s a young guy that’s doing a good job with the youth national team and the U-20s … It was great minutes for Zach and hopefully we can build on that for him.”

Pfeffer made headlines when, as a 15-year-old high school sophomore, he signed with the Union prior the 2011 season.

In his rookie campaign, Pfeffer logged 136 minutes and garnered a couple of starts as he learned the MLS ropes. But Pfeffer played only four minutes in 2012 and spent the entire 2013 season on loan with Hoffenheim in Germany.

Now, as a seasoned 19-year old high school graduate with international experience, he’s ready to become an MLS regular – and was “extremely happy” to play in his first league game since 2012.

“It’s all about patience,” Pfeffer said. “I’m still a young guy but I’d like to consider myself just a regular – not a young guy. I’ve had a lot of experience. I’ve been here for a while now. It’s been tough [not playing] but I’m happy to get out there. And any time I’m going to get a chance, I’ll just try to make the most of it.”

Pfeffer was called into action Saturday, in large part because the shorthanded Union were playing without midfielders Brian Carroll (groin), Maurice Edu (US national team), Michael Lahoud (Sierra Leone national team) and Corben Bone (suspension).

Before the game began, Pfeffer knew those absences presented an opportunity for him – and afterwards he felt like he made the most of it.

Granted, it was a wide-open game by the time Pfeffer entered as a central attacking midfielder in the 73rd minute. But it was his sharp pass forward that led to Antoine Hoppenot being fouled in the box and Sebastien Le Toux burying a penalty kick in stoppage time.

“I was pretty happy with my performance,” Pfeffer said. “I thought I made a lot of good passes and helped out defensively. Overall, I was pretty happy and excited to finally get out there.”

His teammates were happy with his performance, too.

“Zach Pfeffer did a great job coming in under the circumstances today,” said captain Amobi Okugo. “Hopefully, we might see more of him.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.