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Season Review: The Homegrowns

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Editor’s note: At the end of the first two Philadelphia Union seasons, we posted a series of end of the season reviews of every Union player. Over the next several weeks, PSP continues with a review of the 2012 season.

They are the future of the club, young, incredibly talented and full of promise. They also happen to be kids from our area, so they get what it means to be a Philadelphia sports fans. The MLS Homegrown Players are youngsters plucked from the ranks of a club’s developmental academy. The Homegrown rule has been in place since 2008 in an effort to get MLS club’s to provide premier training in their developmental academies, with the goal of retaining their top talent. The Philadelphia Union currently have three homegrown players on their roster.

Upper Dublin’s Zach Pfeffer burst on to Philadelphia Union fans’ radar when he debuted in a friendly against Chivas Guadalajara in 2010. The Union made him their first Homegrown player on December 22, 2010. Philadelphia made Great Valley High School graduate Jimmy McLaughlin their second homegrown signing on December 12th, 2011. Cristhian Hernandez, who scored the match winning goal in a 2011 friendly against Premier League club Everton, joined the Union as the latest homegrown signing on March 5th, 2012. In 2012, they combined for 47 minutes of first team action on the youngest team in Major League Soccer.

Zach Pfeffer

The FC Delco product saw just four minutes of action in the season finale versus New York. Despite earning few first team minutes, Pfeffer played in seven reserve league matches, saw time in the friendlies against Schalke 04, Reading United, Aston Villa and Harrisburg, and spent time with the US Soccer U18 team. In his seven reserve league matches, Pfeffer was effective at the heart of the Union midfield. His distribution was exceptional for a player of his age, displaying pinpoint accuracy with well crafted through balls that created scoring chances for his forwards. Pfeffer’s loan goal of the reserve season came when he shredded the Columbus Crew back line and buried his shot past the Crew’s keeper. He also recorded two assists in reserve play.

The defining moment for Zach Pfeffer in 2012 came in the Generation Adidas Cup, where he captained the Union’s U17 squad. The U17s posted four wins in the youth showcase during which Pfeffer was credited with four assists for the Union. With a penalty shoot-out win over Toronto FC, Pfeffer and his U17s teammates returned home with the Union’s first piece of silverware in club history. Pfeffer is currently training at the USMNT U18 camp in California.

As for Pfeffer’s development as a professional, Union Assistant Coach and Head Reserve Team Coach Brendan Burke praised the 17 year old’s strengths, “He is very quick and good in combination play.” When asked what young Zach can build upon for the future, Burke shared, “He needs to improve his defensive awareness.”As for that bright future, Burke concluded, “Next year is another important development year for Pfef, he is still very young.”

Jimmy McLaughlin

The big smile, the mop of blonde hair, the aggressive play on the wing. These are just a few of the things that define James Joseph McLaughlin III. The high point in Jimmy’s 2012 season came on October 24th when he made his MLS debut and played 17 minutes in the Union’s 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City.

With first team minutes hard to come by, McLaughlin played in seven matches during a loan stint with USL-Pro affliate Harrisburg City Islanders. In addition to his time with the Islanders, McLaughlin played multiple positions for Burke in eight Reserve League matches for the Union. The former Colgate man started matches in the backline and midfield and recorded a goal and an assist. Jimmy’s aggressive play stood out in many of the reserve games. He’s a high motor guy and never backed down when challenging an opponent.

McLaughlin also played crucial minutes in friendlies against Schalke 04, Reading United and Aston Villa and is currently in training with German Bundesliga club Hoffenheim ahead of the 2013 MLS season.

Burke was full of praise for the 19 year old. When asked about McLaughlin’s strengths, Burke said, “He’s a very good 1 v 1 player, does well when he gets isolated with a defender at putting them on their heels and going at people at pace. He brings excellent intensity to training and is an extremely hardworking player.” As for what McLaughlin can do to improve Burke said Jimmy “has to start to read situations and recognize when it is time to keep the ball and when it is time to take chances and be aggressive.”

Cristhian Hernandez

If you were at PPL Park when Christhian Hernandez scored his memorable 87th minute winner versus Everton, you won’t soon forget the unbridled joy shown by the 2011 Developmental Academy Player of the Year. Now 19 years old, Hernandez recorded 26 minutes of first team action this season, making his MLS debut in the 71st minute of the Union’s 2012 home opener against Colorado on March 18th.

The Union Academy graduate played in every one of the Union’s Reserve League matches in 2012, recording a goal  against New England in the first reserve match of the season. He also logged important minutes in the friendlies against Schalke, Harrisburg, Reading and Aston Villa. In the friendly versus Reading United, Hernandez provided a lovely assist on Chandler Hoffman’s opener.

Hernandez recently spent time training with Real Sociedad in Spain.

Coach Burke spoke well of Hernandez. “He has excellent technical ability,” Burke said, “some of the best on the team already.” The reserve team coach would like to see the 19 year old work on his endurance, “He has to improve his speed of play and work toward maintaining his level over 90 minutes.” Overall, Burke seems pleased with Hernandez’s development.

“He is still very young but is likely to push for first team time if fitness is right.”

 

2 Comments

  1. Given that these 3 could barely get any playing time on a poor team, I’m not optimistic. Can anyone point to any reason why they wouldn’t have been better served by going to college? Is 2013 the sink or swim year for them?

    • The 2012 Union was a shambles, and I don’t think it reflects as much on these three players. If they can play, we should see more of them in 2013. If not, well then you are right and they should have hit the books harder. In college there’s a lower level of competition, and probably inferior coaching. If a player truly thinks he has a bright future as a professional footballer, then college is not where he should be.
      * * *
      2013: I think a 17-year-old need not think of 2013 in terms of sinking or swimming. On the other hand, if you look around the world, most 19-year-old players are really setting up their careers, so yes, 2013 should be an important year for those two.

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