Skip to content
Rally High School Sports
Link copied to clipboard

Upper Dublin sophomore realizes pro soccer dream

It was the 82d minute of a friendly between the Philadelphia Union and visiting Chivas Guadalajara.

Zach Pfeffer, played briefly with the Philadelphia Union in one of the team’s friendlies. (Greg Carroccio/Philadelphia Union)
Zach Pfeffer, played briefly with the Philadelphia Union in one of the team’s friendlies. (Greg Carroccio/Philadelphia Union)Read more

It was the 82d minute of a friendly between the Philadelphia Union and visiting Chivas Guadalajara.

It was one of the waning moments of a meaningless game that the Union were well on their way to winning. But at that very moment, a pocket of dozens of fans behind the home team's bench stood up and went crazy.

"It was kind of funny because nobody had any idea what we were cheering for," said Upper Dublin boys' soccer coach and Union season-ticket holder Rick Schmidt. "But for us, it was an amazingly proud moment."

For the recipient of those cheers, it was a dream come true.

Upper Dublin native Zach Pfeffer - just 15 years old, standing just 5-foot-7, weighing just 130 pounds - had checked into the game and into the history books for the young MLS franchise.

"Ever since I started playing soccer when I was 4 years old, that's all that I ever wanted to do, play professional soccer," Pfeffer said. "So to step on that field with so many people there to support me was amazing. It was a great experience. I'll never forget it."

The sophomore's road to the professional pitch that Sept. 1 night happened far more quickly than he could have imagined.

Pfeffer is the youngest player ever to take the field for the Union, and the team hopes he becomes more of a trailblazer than an exception to the rule.

Pfeffer was asked to join the Union's up-and-coming youth academy after the team identified him through strong performances with the under-14 and under-15 national teams.

In May, Pfeffer started training with the youth team, and after another strong showing with the team in the U-17 SUM Cup, he was asked to begin training with the Union's first team.

"We always wanted to give some training opportunities with the first team to some of those [academy players], and [Pfeffer] was the best candidate to do that," John Hackworth, the Union's youth development coordinator, told

Having youth players train and occasionally see game action is nothing new for most major soccer clubs, and it was no secret that was the direction in which the Union were taking their program.

But when the Union finally broke the news to Pfeffer, it caught him completely off guard.

"I didn't expect it at all," he said. "The game was on a Wednesday. So that Tuesday morning, we had a light session, and at the end of the session, [Union manager Peter Nowak] brought all of the players in, and out of nowhere he just said, 'I think everyone's going to play, and I think we're going to get Zach some minutes, too.'

"So it was a surprise, but I was pretty excited and obviously a little nervous, too."

Even in his one year of high school soccer, as a freshman on Upper Dublin's varsity team last season, Pfeffer constantly dealt with much bigger players trying - mostly unsuccessfully - to defend him.

As an attacking midfielder, Pfeffer relies on his advanced technical skills to set him apart. But going toe-to-toe with bigger players is something he has done his whole life. And in his appearance with the Union, Pfeffer set out to make that clear.

"I was definitely trying to go in and show that I wasn't afraid and that I could play at the professional level," he said. "Obviously, I still have a long way to go. But going into the game, I wanted to show that I was getting into tackles and I wouldn't back down. And I also wanted to show when I got the ball, what I could do, too."

For right now, Pfeffer continues to show the Union what he can do every day.

Pfeffer is in school for just two classes - he's finishing the rest of his schooling online - before heading off to train with the Union every afternoon.

When he looks back on his appearance in the Union's 1-0 win over Chivas Guadalajara, Pfeffer said it served only to make him want to go after his dream of being a professional soccer player even more.

And the dozens of friends, family members, former teammates, and coaches in attendance that night will be right there with him every step of the way. Even if, deep down, some of them would prefer to see him in a different uniform for the next three years.

"Of course, I would love to have him playing for us right now. Are you kidding me?" Schmidt said with a laugh.

"But the thing about Zach is, yes, he is an outstanding player. He's the best player we've ever had come through Upper Dublin. But what really separates him is the fact that he has a singular vision as a 15-year-old boy of what he wants in life.

"He wants to be a professional soccer player. And he's willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal."