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Union's Zach Pfeffer laments missed chances

Midfielder from Upper Dublin plays well but misses two open shots in loss to New York Red Bulls.

ZACH PFEFFER stood at the top of the box with both hands firmly placed on top of his head, and his eyes fixed on the goal that had been giving him headaches all afternoon.

The 20-year-old midfielder from Upper Dublin High School couldn't believe he missed his second consecutive wide-open shot from the top of the box; this time, a leftfooted chance in the 59th minute that soared past the outstretched hands of New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles and over the upper left end of the crossbar.

Pfeffer missed an eerily similar shot with his right foot five minutes earlier, floating the ball over the upper right corner of the net and into the Sons of Ben during the Union's 3-1 loss to the Red Bulls at PPL Park on Saturday.

"That's like my biggest strength in training," Pfeffer said, shaking his head and gritting his teeth. "I'm curling those in the corner all the time [at practice], so I definitely wish I could have both of them back.

"I hold myself to high standards for those particular shots because that's what I love to do. I thought I got myself in good spots to get those shots off, but unfortunately I didn't get them on target."

Pfeffer made his 11th start of the season, this time in place of injured Vincent Nogueira. The game marked the team's first action without Nogueira, its starting center defensive midfielder, since coach Jim Curtin announced Wednesday that he would miss three to four weeks with a right quad tear.

Nogueira last played in the Union's previous match, a 3-2 loss at D.C. United on July 26. Despite a so-so outing against D.C., Pfeffer got the nod from Curtin to fill in for the reliable Nogueira against the Red Bulls.

"I trusted him to put him out there again after I talked [to him] about a couple plays he could have done better on the D.C. goals . . . take a foul, put his body on somebody, move his feet a little defensively, and I thought he responded well," Curtin said. "He had a couple chances at the top of the box that you'd like to hit the target, but he did a good job.

"There's always growing and developing with young players, and I trusted him in a big spot in a big game and he had a strong performance."

After recording no shots or fouls to go with one assist against D.C., Pfeffer was noticeably more aggressive on Saturday as he pressed up on the opposing midfielders in the open field and didn't shy away from contact. He finished with two shots, two fouls committed and one foul drawn.

"Tonight was the best physically that I've felt, and I thought I did really well," Pfeffer said. "The coaching staff always preaches when one guy goes down, it's the next guy up and you have to go out and just fill in that role seamlessly and try to not let the bar down, so that's what I'm trying to do to fill in for Vince."

Although a few of Pfeffer's mistakes came at pivotal moments, like his two unmarked misses from the top of the box, his teammates seemed generally pleased with his performance.

"I think Zach matured a little bit from the last game," captain and starting defender Maurice Edu said. "He covered more ground today, broke up some plays, was in good positions, and I think he played well."

The Union (6-13-4) visits Orlando City on Saturday night, then hosts Chicago on Aug. 12 in a U.S. Open Cup semifinal.