CHESTER, Pa. – As soon as the Philadelphia Union's game vs. the New England Revolution ended on Sunday, Zach Pfeffer changed into a US national team shirt and started to pack a suitcase.
He had a plane to catch and a new team to join for the week.
Fresh off starting and playing 78 minutes in Philly’s 2-1 loss to the New England Revolution over the weekend, Pfeffer left for Linz, Austria for an important US U-20 camp in preparation for the U-20 World Cup from May 30-June 20 in New Zealand.
“Any time you get called up to the national team, it’s a huge honor,” Pfeffer said. “It’s getting into crunch time leading to the World Cup. There’s only about a month left and this is the last camp before [head coach Tab Ramos] picks his team. It’s an important camp for me and I’m excited.”
The 20-year-old Pfeffer has played for every youth national team, most recently getting called up to the U-23 squad in March. But making the U-20 World Cup roster isn't a given for the Union midfielder, who missed out on qualifying at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship earlier this year because of a minor injury.
Since then, though, Pfeffer committed himself to getting back in Tab Ramos’ fold. And he’s done so by becoming an MLS regular for the first time in his career.
Pfeffer, who played sparingly during his first four seasons as a pro, has started three games this season and played in every contest aside from a two-game suspension he served for elbowing Dallas’ Mauro Diaz in the head on March 21 (watch the incident here).
“Missing qualifying was a disappointment for me, especially because it came down to an injury,” he said. “But that’s part of the game. You have to move on from it. I’m just happy now from my progression from that slight setback to now having a good preseason, and then working my way into the rotation.
“It’s going well so far and hopefully it will continue.”
Pfeffer has also shown his versatility for the Union, playing mostly as an attacking midfielder with Cristian Maidana battling an injury, but sliding into a deeper midfield role Sunday with Maidana back but Vincent Nogueira injured.
The midfielder said his new role required more running, communication and defense, but was happy to take on those responsibilities, especially because he knows that defending is an area in which he still needs work.
“I’m comfortable really in any spot throughout the midfield or in the attacking third on the wings,” he said. “I’ll play wherever the coaches need me to play. We had to work out some kinks here and there. Overall it went pretty well, but I can always do better.”
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Before leaving for Austria, Pfeffer said he wasn’t sure where he’s going to play this week -- he noted that he’s mostly been deployed as a winger for national teams -- but that Ramos has watched him play centrally in MLS.
He's eager to do what’s asked of him during the U-20 team exhibition matches. They tied Qatar 2-2 on Tuesday and will face Croatia on Saturday (the latter match will cause him to miss the Union’s road game against Columbus this weekend).
“Any time you’re on the field, you want to show yourself and help the team and do the best you can,” he said. “My focus for the next week is on the national team – and then it’s coming back here and getting back to business.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.