Marc Narducci: Union's Pfeffer, 17, gets valuable experience against Schalke
It's been an interesting journey for Union midfielder Zach Pfeffer, who has a job that would be the envy of most of his fellow high school students - but one that still provides the always difficult combination of challenge and frustration.
Pfeffer is a junior at Upper Dublin High. He was signed in December of 2010 as the Union's first home-grown player, so he has been juggling soccer balls and books ever since.
His 2011 salary, according to the Major League Soccer Players Union, was $65,000. That's a little more than, say, some of his peers are earning for bussing tables or parking cars.
Still, regardless of the financial rewards, it can't be easy spending so much time on the pine.
Yes, he's only 17, but age has no bearing on a person's desire to play.
Last season, his first with the team, Pfeffer appeared in three MLS games. He also plays in reserve league matches, which were created mainly for players who weren't seeing a lot of time with the varsity.
Pfeffer hasn't appeared in any of the Union's first eight MLS games this season, so that 2-5-1 record has to be pinned on others.
"It's tough to bide your time, but that is part of the learning process and development, and I'm just trying to be patient," Pfeffer said after playing the entire second half of Wednesday's 2-1 win over the top-flight German club Schalke 04 in a friendly at PPL Park in Chester.
Besides seeing 45 minutes of action, Pfeffer played well. In the 86th minute, he forced keeper Lars Unnerstall to make a diving save on a blast to the near post from 10 yards out.
"He was pretty composed on the ball and had a couple of attacking moments for us," Union assistant coach John Hackworth said. "He still has a lot to work on, but for a 17-year-old kid, it was fantastic."
One thing that the Union should be credited with is staging friendlies against teams that aren't soccer's versions of punching bags. Schalke just finished third in the prestigious Bundesliga, behind champion Borussia Dortmund and perennial power Bayern Munich (a Champions league finalist this season).
So Pfeffer was able to shake off the rust by playing against world-class competition.
No doubt Pfeffer has improved his game just practicing every day against professionals. And it certainly won't hurt his development playing against the likes of Schalke.
He also has an interesting workload.
Pfeffer attends school for about an hour in the morning and does the rest of his education online. Every day he then goes to practice, and when his teammates are able to rest up afterwards, Pfeffer is making sure his homework is getting completed.
"It was a little difficult at first," he said, "but now it's not too bad once you get in a routine and sort of manage your time well - and I think I do a good job of that."
These friendlies are building blocks, something that Pfeffer will learn from and keep him hungry for his next game action.
"Games like this are extremely important and help us grow in confidence and develop as players," Pfeffer said.
Shortly after speaking to the media, it was time for Pfeffer to depart the Union locker room and get some sleep.
That's because his high school math analysis class would begin in about another 10 hours.
Contact Marc Narducci at 856,779-3225, firstname.lastname@example.org or @sjnard on Twitter.