WALLINGFORD, Pa. — Zach Pfeffer was supposed to anchor the midfield for the Philadelphia Union’s Reserve League game against D.C. United on Monday.
Instead, the teenage phenom spent much of the day in the hospital after undergoing surgery to have his appendix removed.
“He came down with some abdominal pain [Sunday] so his dad, who’s a doctor, got him in to see somebody,” Union coach John Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com following Philly’s 1-0 Reserve League loss. “They ran some tests and it was acute appendicitis, so all signs were pretty clear he needed to have it taken out.”
The appendectomy will likely sideline Pfeffer for at least two weeks. Hackworth called it “just a little bit of a bump on the road” for the 16-year-old, who has yet to debut for the Union but is expected to be a major part of the club’s future.
There is, however, one other immediate concern: Pfeffer’s inclusion in the USA’s FIFA Under-17 World Cup squad. The Union midfielder was part of the team during a recent tournament in France and had his sights set on playing in the World Cup, which begins June 18 in Mexico.
“I would hope he’d be included but this is a little setback now,” said Hackworth, who used to coach the US U-17 national team. “I know going into it you need your players healthy and ready. So we’ll have to see. I actually have no idea where he sits in the [player] pool at this moment.”
Pfeffer, the fourth-youngest player ever to sign an MLS contract, became the Union’s first Home Grown signing back in December.
During Monday’s Reserve League game, another Union academy teenager made a strong case to be the second: Jimmy McLaughlin.
A product of FC Delco and nearby Great Valley High School, McLaughlin made a number of nice runs on the right flank during the second half — this after playing a strong 90 minutes in the club’s first Reserve League game.
“He just doesn’t miss a beat,” said the Union’s reserve team coach, Brendan Burke. “He’s very quick and technically good. In the second half, he was one of our most dangerous guys.”
McLaughlin, who set a Great Valley program record with 29 goals in the fall, will soon begin his college career at Colgate University. Before that, he’ll continue to play with the Union U-18 Academy team while gaining experience with Reading United A.C. of the USL Premier Development League.
“At the moment, he’s our top academy guy,” Hackworth said. “He did a great job last summer and he continues to do that. We’re really happy with him.”
Happy enough to make him the team’s next Home Grown signing? That remains to be seen.
“It’s a matter of timing,” Hackworth said. “We have to make sure it’s the right thing for the player and the club. We’re very careful with those decisions.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.