Peter Nowak sure likes them young – his players, that is.
Nowak was at the helm of D.C. United in 2004, when a fresh-faced 14-year-old named Freddy Adu captured headlines when he was drafted as the youngest player in Major League Soccer.
Today, Nowak and his technical staff raised the bar - if only slightly - with the announced signing of 15-year-old Zach Pfeffer, from Dresher, Pa. Pfeffer, who played club ball for Pennsylvania powerhouse and Downingtown-based club FC Delco, is the Union's first signing under MLS' homegrown player initiative. The program allow clubs to develop and sign their own talent via their own youth academies and partnerships with area youth leagues.
Pfeffer is now apart of the Union's 32-man player pool, but Union assistant John Hackworth - tabbed as the pointman responsible for acquiring Pfeffer - said the youngster has a very good chance of seeing action with the first team in his first season.
"His technical and tactical awareness distinguish Zach as one of the top players in the league for his age," Hackworth told the Daily News. "He's known for quite some time he's wanted to be a professional soccer player and I don't think that's something he's ever shied away from. We'll make sure he gets the appropriate amount of time at every level, to get his MLS experience, because those minutes are invaluable."
Pfeffer has been with the Union since May 1 as a trainee, but his paperwork to become the league's third youngest player - behind Adu and New England Revolution homegrown stud Diego Fagundez - was approved this week. Fagundez is 15.
Through training, preseason games and the return of MLS' reserve league, Pfeffer will assuredly get the chance to prove he belongs. Even at an age where he is still too young to acquire his driver's license, he already dons an impressive soccer resume. In addition to playing for Delco, the youngster competed for the Union in the Under-17 MLS/SUM Cup in July and also recently returned from a trip to Germany where he spent two weeks training with Bundesliga club TSG Hoffenheim.
"He's not the typical teenager who spends their time staring at computer screens. He's out in his back yard training by himself or working on his fitness," said Hackworth. "But with this comes a lot of excitement and it's the overexertion that finds a lot of players getting burned out. We plan to manage every aspect of what Zach does so at least on our end; we monitor exactly where he is in his progression as a professional. We look at this from a holistic standpoint to make sure he gets the proper regeneration and try to really ensure he gets optimum attention."
Hackworth added: "We think we have something big here and we'd hate to see it go to waste."