One of the last courses Philadelphia Union midfielder Zach Pfeffer needs to complete in order to graduate from high school is an online course in German.
And what better place to wrap up the course than in Germany?
It's just another one of those things that seem to be falling perfectly into place for Pfeffer, who will be loaned by the Union to the Bundesliga’s Hoffenheim 1899 for the entire 2013 calendar year.
“I’m still not even 18 yet,” said Pfeffer, who turns 18 on Jan. 6, the same week he leaves for Germany. “Once in a while, when I’m on the field, I’ll say to myself, ‘I’m pretty lucky.’ I’ve had a lot of great things happen to me at a very young age that not a lot of people have had happen to them. I’m very thankful for all of it.”
Despite his youth, Pfeffer says he isn't too nervous about his upcoming experience in Germany partly because he already has a few pro seasons under his belt. He was the fourth-youngest player ever to sign an MLS contract when he joined the Union as a 15-year-old nearly two years ago.
It also helps that he’s familiar with Hoffenheim, having already trained with the German side three times, including a two-week stint earlier this month when he found his living quarters within the academy facilities, established his resident papers and tied up other loose ends for the 2013 loan.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Pfeffer, who will mostly play with the Hoffenheim reserve team and Under-19s. “I’m very comfortable over there because I’ve been there three times. I know most of the guys on the team and the coaching staff and I’m familiar with the facilities. Like everyone, I’ll miss my family and friends back home, but that’s part of the sacrifice I think I need to make to take the next step.”
While the chance to play many games against high-level competition is the main reason for the loan, Pfeffer is also excited to soak in a new culture and continue to learn a new language. On top of all the soccer, the teenager will be enrolled in what he called a “pretty intense” German class for four days per week.
If everything goes well and Hoffenheim like what they see in Pfeffer, is there a possibility the loan turns into a more permanent situation down the road?
“That’s probably always an option with any player that goes to any team,” Pfeffer said. “If that situation arose, we’d deal with it then. But right now it’s a one-year loan. Anything else in the future, we’ll take that in stride and deal with it when it comes.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.