Zach Pfeffer gets a pat on the back from Union teammate Freddy Adu.
Courtesy of Philadelphia Union

Philly rookie Pfeffer relieved to lean on teammate Adu

CHESTER, Pa. — Philadelphia Union rookie Zach Pfeffer was just nine years old when Freddy Adu signed his historic contract as a 14-year-old with D.C. United in 2004. But he remembers exactly what was going through his mind at the time.

“It was an incredible day for American soccer,” Pfeffer told “And when I looked at it, I thought that maybe one day that could be me.”

Six years later, in December of 2010, Pfeffer followed in Adu’s footsteps when he signed with the Union as a 15-year-old. Even more remarkably, it was Adu who gave Pfeffer advice before the rookie’s debut this past weekend.

What were the words of wisdom from Adu?

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“Don’t worry about anything,” Adu remembered telling his Union teammate. “Do exactly what you’ve been doing in training. You’re not going to face guys that are going to be better than your teammates in training. Don’t worry. Don’t be nervous. Go out there and play your game.

“And he did just that,” Adu continued. “He was great. I thought for his debut, he did a great job.”

Pfeffer’s league debut, of course, did not come with nearly the same hubbub as when Adu made his back in 2004.

But Adu, now a more seasoned 22-year-old, could still relate to what Pfeffer was going through when the youngster got the start for Saturday’s game vs. Columbus. No matter the circumstance, playing your first professional game is always filled with worry and nerves – feelings that are only magnified when you’re a teenager.

“It is [harder] because there’s like 10,000 things going on in your head,” Adu said. “But I thought he did a pretty good job. He’s been waiting for this opportunity and he finally got it in a big, big game.”

It certainly was a unique start to an MLS career. After sitting on the bench for the first 27 games of the season, Pfeffer finally got the nod from manager Peter Nowak in what was, arguably, the club’s most important contest of the year.

After the game – a 1-0 win for Philly over the Eastern Conference leaders – Nowak said that “every guy deserves a shot” and pointed out that Pfeffer had been playing well in training throughout the week. The manager also noted that the 16-year-old was nervous “as soon as he saw his name on the board.”

Pfeffer admitted to certainly feeling his share of nerves but was mostly pleased to finally play in an official MLS game, even if it did come so late in his rookie season.

“I think I’ve been putting in a lot of work and doing well in training over the last couple of weeks – which I think definitely shows that hard work pays off,” Pfeffer said. “I’m just thankful the coaches had the trust to put me out there and start me in this game.”

Of course, the 16-year-old still knows he has a lot to learn about being a professional at such a young age. Luckily, if he ever has any questions, he can turn to someone right in his locker room who's been a similar situation before.

“It’s definitely cool playing with him since we have things in common,” Pfeffer said of Adu. “I’ll just try to learn from him as much as I can.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for Email him at

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