Updated Jan. 31: Venezia won’t be signing Jordan Pefok this winter. The club instead signed another Young Boys striker, Jean-Pierre Nsame, on loan through the end of the season with a purchase eoption.
One of the top American strikers in Europe may be on the move in the coming days.
A source with knowledge of the matter told The Inquirer on Saturday night that negotiations are ongoing for Italian Serie A club Venezia to buy Jordan Pefok from Switzerland’s Young Boys. There’s no certainty that the deal will get done, but Venezia is trying to sign the 25-year-old who has eight U.S. national team caps.
Young Boys, based in Switzerland’s capital Bern, is the four-time reigning Swiss Super League champion. Pefok helped deliver last season’s title with 12 goals and four assists in 32 games. He also scored three goals in eight Europa League games after the club fell short in the Champions League’s qualifying playoffs.
Along the way, the Washington, D.C. native made his U.S. national team debut after choosing the country over two others for which he was eligible, France and Cameroon. Pefok played two games with France’s under-21 team while growing up at French club Reims as a kid. His family moved to France when he was a baby.
Pefok’s U.S. debut came last March in a friendly against Jamaica that was played in Austria so manager Gregg Berhalter could gather Europe-based Americans during the pandemic. In June, Pefok scored his first U.S. goal in dramatic fashion: an 89th-minute game-winner in the Concacaf Nations League semifinals against Honduras.
He then started the final against Mexico and played an hour before being subbed off, in a game that ended up as an epic 3-2 U.S. win in extra time.
Pefok was called up for the September World Cup qualifiers, and didn’t play as well. He was a substitute for 26 minutes in the opener at El Salvador on Sept. 2, an 83-minute starter against Canada on Sept. 5, and didn’t play at all at Honduras on Sept. 8. He hasn’t been called up since then, which has raised some eyebrows among U.S. fans given the team’s lack of striker depth.
Pefok has done his part to stay in the spotlight. He’s scored 16 goals in 30 games across all competitions for Young Boys this season: 11 in 17 Swiss league games, three in six Champions League qualifiers, and two in the Champions League group stage — including a 95th-minute game-winner against mighty Manchester United at home on Sept. 14, the tournament’s opening day.
The second group-stage goal was Young Boys’ opener in a 3-3 tie with Italy’s Atalanta at home on Nov. 23, after Atalanta had scored first. It was just about a must-win game for Young Boys after three straight losses, and they did not win it.
A 1-1 tie at Manchester United in the group stage finale on Dec. 8, with Pefok playing 62 minutes, was a nice score. But it was not enough to get Young Boys up to third place and into the Europa League, so the club went out of continental competition for the season.
Young Boys is currently in third place in the Swiss league, eight points behind leader FC Zurich and two points ahead of fourth-place Lugano. Only the first-place finisher stands a chance at the Champions League, and must go through a qualifying playoff to get there. The second- and third-place finishers go into qualifying playoffs for the Europa Conference League, Europe’s third-tier continental tournament.
If Pefok moves to Venezia, he’ll trade the fight to play in Europe next season for the fight to avoid relegation from Serie A this season. Venezia is currently in fourth-from-last place, two points out of the relegation zone.
But it will be a higher level of competition, and if Pefok does well that will get Berhalter’s attention. Berhalter already watches Venezia plenty closely, as the club is home to U.S. national team midfielder Gianluca Busio. Venezia also has two other American players in its ranks, midfielder Tanner Tessmann and Union academy-bred forward Jack de Vries.
De Vries, who turned pro with the Union in 2019, is on loan to Venezia until the summer. He has spent most of his time with the club’s youth reserve team, but has played one game for the senior squad: an Italian Cup early-round game on Dec. 14.
There are multiple Americans in Venezia’s front office, too, including owner Duncan Niederauer and analytics chief Alex Menta. They’ve focused on signing American players, and that has paid off with Busio and Tessmann being successful for them. Now they hope Pefok will continue the streak.