Originally published December 23, 2010.
AT A TIME when most boys his age are busy texting and tweeting, Zach Pfeffer is in his backyard perfecting his touch.
While most boys his age brag about how good they are at FIFA 11, Pfeffer, 15, has a chance to one day grace EA Sports' annual video game.
Right now, being a kid is on the back burner as he attempts to become a professional.
Yesterday, the Union announced that the native of Dresher, Pa., is the club's first-ever signee under Major League Soccer's homegrown player initiative. It is a program that fuses MLS teams with area clubs, recreation centers and their own academies. He becomes the third-youngest player in the MLS' 15-year-history, behind only New England midfielder/forward Diego Fagundez and former D.C. United forward Freddy Adu, drafted by current Union boss Peter Nowak as a ballyhooed 14-year-old in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft.
"Right now, this is a dream come true for me and my family," said Pfeffer, a 5-7, 140-pound attacking midfielder who turns 16 on Jan. 6. "It was a big surprise when it all came about, but knowing that this could happen really gave me something to work for and strive for."
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Pfeffer stands to make at least the current league minimum of $40,000.
Pfeffer is about as homegrown as cheesesteaks and Rocky Balboa. Currently, he's your average sophomore at Upper Dublin High School in Fort Washington. But once the Union reconvenes for the start of its second season, chemistry and geometry will be his only classes; the remaining subjects will be taken at home, online. In the meantime, his mother Margie and father Scott will spend much of their time doing what they've done for most of Pfeffer's life - toting their professional soccer player son to and from practice.
Not that they mind.
"It's an absolute dream come true," said Margie, who takes Pfeffer's twin brother, Jared, to practices for Downingtown-based youth soccer powerhouse FC Delco. "Zach started this at age 4. He never picked up a toy, it was always a ball, and with all the clubs he's been a part of to all the coaches he's come in contact with, it's been an amazing journey and we are so proud of him."
Pfeffer has played for at least three different area club programs, but his "platform" was a stint with FC Delco. This led to a 6-month residency at the Bradenton Academy in Florida, home to some of the top U.S. Soccer prospects. It was once run by Union assistant John Hackworth, currently directed by Wilmer Cabrera. All of which culminated into stints with the United States' under-14 and under-15 national teams, a spot on the Union's youth reserves and a recent 2-week training stint with German first division club TSG 1899 Hoffenheim.
"Zach is a kid obsessed with soccer," said Allan Greaves, an FC Delco coach who has worked with Pfeffer. "He's very driven and extremely hard-working. There are a lot of different people who have shaped his development, but for much of it Zach can take full credit."
Pfeffer, a Union trainee in a youth capacity since May 1, debuted with members of the first team in a friendly against Chivas de Guadalajara in September. With family and friends watching at PPL Park, Pfeffer was a second-half sub for defender Michael Orozco Fiscal. It was a moment he won't soon forget - partly because, in the biggest moment of his young career, Pfeffer was mistakenly renamed "Peffer" on the back of his No. 27 jersey.
"That [moment] was amazing. In my hometown with my family and a lot of my friends watching, I can't really describe all the emotions," Pfeffer said. "I just wanted to go out and prove I belonged and deserved to be there."
But while that was Pfeffer's proving ground for a Union fan base that boasted the third-highest attendance in MLS, it wasn't one for a technical staff that knew this kid was destined for big things.
Pfeffer likely will play a lot in the MLS reserve league, but it is not out of the question that he also sees some action with the Union.
"He's not the typical teenager who spends their time staring at computer screens," Hackworth said. "He's out in his backyard training by himself or working on his fitness. His technical and tactical ability distinguish him as one of the top players in the country for his age. We think we have something big here and we'd hate to see it go to waste."
Like his friends, Pfeffer watched Union games from the stands, dreaming of one day playing on the PPL pitch.
Now . . .
"I can't wait for my friends to come out to the games to watch me play," Pfeffer said. "Me and my friends were always excited to get Union tickets and now I'll be the one giving my friends tickets. It's not a normal 15-year-old's life, but I have gotten very used to the routine."