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Pfeffer continues to gain experience

Union's youngest member to play in MLS Homegrown Game

LAST SATURDAY, the youngest member of the Union returned from a 9-day hiatus in Southern California, where he helped the United States U-20 men's national team claim an international tournament.

Two days later, Major League Soccer announced Zach Pfeffer had been added to the 20-man roster for the league's inaugural Homegrown Game, an Aug. 4 match in Portland, Ore., played as part of All-Star weekend.

Not a bad stretch for the 19-year-old midfielder from Dresher, a mere 13 months removed from Upper Dublin High School graduation.

"I'm really excited about it," Pfeffer said of his inclusion in the Homegrown Game. "I think it's a good stage to see and test myself with and against the other MLS players throughout the league."

Pfeffer, who 4 years ago at age 15 became the Union's first homegrown player signing, has played in just four of the Union's 21 games this season and none since starting the June 7 draw with Vancouver. Eighty-one total minutes have yielded just one shot on goal in league play, but he hopes to build off his recent experience out West and earn more playing time in the season's final 13 games.

"I think I just have to continue to be consistent day in and day out, just bring that confidence that I'm carrying over from the national team," he said, "and make sure that when I do get a chance that I take it and just kind of run with it."

Pfeffer's play in the recent National Training Center Invitational in Carson, Calif., certainly caught the attention of many. In the U.S. squad's first game on July 14, he entered as a sub with the team trailing Chile by a goal. When the match was over, the United States had won, 2-1, with Pfeffer contributing the game-tying assist and the game-winning goal in about 25 minutes on the pitch.

In a 4-0 win against Bermuda 2 days later, Pfeffer scored on a penalty kick. Two days after that, the U.S. team clinched the tournament via a scoreless draw with Australia. Serving as perhaps the lone negative to the past couple weeks, Pfeffer exited that final match in the eighth minute with a groin injury sustained in warmups. It's "nothing too serious," he said, but it will almost certainly cost him a chance to play in tonight's PPL Park friendly against Crystal Palace of the English Premier League.

Overall, though, the spell with the U-20 team was a confidence builder for Pfeffer, who has represented the USA since the U-14 level. When called in for such camps, he's often one of the key contributors and a veteran, in contrast to his time with the Union when he shares a locker room with four players 30 or older.

"You can't take it for granted so I just try to go in every camp and perform the best that I can," he said. "I'm hoping to be reinvited back every single camp, so just looking to build off every camp and hopefully I'll be with the group toward World Cup qualifying and hopefully eventually the World Cup."

With the Union, Pfeffer said he thinks his training sessions have been the most consistent of his three MLS seasons thus far. Around his veteran teammates, he tries to "just be a sponge and learn anything I can." Although it doesn't seem like much, his four MLS appearances in 2014 are a career high.

The big question is, when will we next see him back out wide on the pitch in a Union game? Pfeffer said interim manager Jim Curtin, who has coached him since Pfeffer was 16, has expressed confidence in him and noted that he would like to get Pfeffer more minutes before season's end.

"So we'll see how that goes. It just depends on what game we're playing, who we're playing against," said Pfeffer, who has eight career MLS games under his belt. "I'm just going to try to be as consistent as I can in training, perform well and make sure that he has a tough decision."