CHESTER, Pa. – As the youngest player on the Philadelphia Union, Zach Pfeffer (above, right) doesn’t usually get a chance to lead by example.
But the 17-year-old was put in just that position last week. And he delivered in a big way, captaining the Union’s U-17 Academy team to the Generation adidas Cup with a shootout win over Toronto FC on Thursday in Seattle.
“For me, it’s a nice chance to be a leader after being down on the bottom here with the first team,” Pfeffer told MLSsoccer.com. “I enjoyed it and I think it will only help me grow as a player.”
It may also help him grow into a greater role with the first team.
Fresh off the GA Cup triumph, Union interim manager John Hackworth rewarded Pfeffer by naming him to the 18-man roster for Sunday’s game against the Chicago Fire. And Hackworth said his strong GA Cup performance “couldn’t hurt” the youngster in his quest earn minutes over the final two-and-a-half months of the season.
Pfeffer has yet to appear in a league match this season and has logged just 136 career minutes since signing with Philly before the 2011 campaign.
“We have to do a good job making sure Zach gets game experience and balancing those opportunities for him, whether it’s playing with the U-17s, playing with the reserves or playing with the first team,” Hackworth said. “That’s what he needs to do to grow.
“It was a really positive sign for Zach that he goes [to the GA Cup] and does that so well, that he leads by example and is a role model for a lot of the young players. He is, to a lot of those guys in our academy, exactly what they want to be.”
On top of being the leader on and off the field, Pfeffer also showed the skills that made him the fourth youngest player to ever sign an MLS contract. Playing primarily as a holding midfielder for Academy head coach Jim Curtin’s U-17 side, he had five assists and a goal in five games, and helped seal the championship with a penalty kick in the title-game shootout.
Following the win, Pfeffer and his teammates mobbed goalkeeper Zack Steffen, who stopped two of Toronto’s five penalties, including the last one.
“It was relief, happiness and excitement,” said Pfeffer, who was playing in his third GA Cup but had never before gotten out of group play. “It ended with a save from Steffen and we all ran up to him and started celebrating. It was a great experience for me. The whole team played well and I’m really happy to bring the cup home.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.