Union Made is a reoccurring series to cover the Union’s Homegrown Players (HGP’s), Academy players, and youth system. With Danny Cruz’s departure imminent, it seems appropriate to discuss his potential replacement – homegrown player Jimmy McLaughlin. Now, I have paid close attention to Jimmy since he debuted for this team in the friendly against Everton. I was impressed by his silky smooth play on the ball and his ability to just ghost around defenders. Let’s take a look at what that young talent has turned into three later. At a glance Date of Birth: April 30, 1993 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4o56zz1J1Wg His balance, agility, and touch are fantastic. He can and will shoot from both distance and inside the box. He loves to run at defenders. He plays with tenacity and at a very high tempo. In many ways, he reminds me of a more skilled and less aggressive Danny Cruz and a quicker Justin Mapp that likes to take shots. At best, he can be a very, very good MLS winger. With all that said, I would like to see how he performs as an out-and-out winger. I doubt he will overtake Andrew Wenger on the left. His best option for seeing minutes will be on the right to spell Sebastian Le Toux where he won’t have the benefit of cutting inside on his stronger foot. Can he perform as well on the right as he appears to on the left? Looking forward With Danny Cruz now gone, this could be Jimmy’s time to finally seize some first team minutes on the team. As of now, Eric Ayuk Mbi is his only competition out wide, but Eric is an even rawer talent than Jimmy. Zach Pfeffer has played out wide for the U-20 national team, but I expect him to play more as a backup to Chaco and Vincent Nogueira. This leaves Jimmy as the top available sub out wide. If he starts making the bench now, this could be Jimmy’s breakout year. The rigors of the MLS season will likely see him earn a few starts this season. In the past, I have been hesitant to expect young players to get minutes on this team. However, Pfeffer has seen substitute minutes in both games this year. If Pfeffer is finally seeing time, can this be Jimmy’s opportunity to follow right behind him? I am really excited to see Jimmy develop. He may not have the potential of Zach Pfeffer, but he is simply an exciting player to watch play. If he can put all the elements of his game together, Jimmy may offer us the true out-and-out winger that this team has lacked since Justin Mapp’s departure. More importantly, Jimmy could give us a true successor to a Sebastian Le Toux that is not getting any younger. Zolo fans, be excited but remember that he is still a kid.Hometown: Malvern, Pennsylvania Youth Clubs/College: FC Delco, Colgate University Jimmy signed his homegrown deal on December 12th, 2011. Position Jimmy McLaughlin has spent his time as a winger, and he has shown his ability to play on both wings. His Harrisburg highlights shows he played mostly on the left where he cut inside on his dominant right foot. Union Career Jimmy has not had much of a Union career to date. He played one 17 minutes in 2012 and one minute last year. He has spent most of his time at Harrisburg City Islanders. Last year, he scored six goals and created three assists, notching the second best goals and assists total on the team. This time at Harrisburg is a double-edged sword. Jimmy has gotten plenty of minutes these past few years playing at Harrisburg. Compare this to someone like Zach Pfeffer who has been mostly sitting on the bench both in Germany and with the Union. However, Jimmy has not benefited from practicing week in and week out with this team. It may take him more time to settle in. Why should we be excited? Jimmy has a fantastic skill set that no one else on the team can match. Check out his highlights from last year:
Union Made is a reoccurring series to cover the Union’s Homegrown Players (HGP’s), Academy players, and youth system. To begin the player profiles, it seems only right to focus on Zach Pfeffer – the first home grown Zolo.
At a glance
Date of Birth: January 6, 1995
Hometown: Dresher, Pennsylvania
Youth Clubs: Montgomery United, YMS Celtic, FC Delco, IMG Soccer Academy
Zach signed a homegrown deal in December 2010 shortly before his 16th birthday. Zach is the fourth youngest player to sign an MLS contract.
Though listed as a striker at times, Zach is an attacking midfielder first and foremost. He has played lined up on both wings and in the center of the pitch for the Union and the U.S.A. He has not played enough yet for fans to determine his best position. Seriously, check Youtube for highlights of him. There are very few videos, making it hard to judge.
Unfortunately, Zach has not been able to break into the Union’s 18. Since signing in December 2010, Zach has only made 6 MLS appearances. He saw his best run in 2011 when Piotr Nowak played him in three games.
One of those games included a controversial start against the New York Red Bulls. A win would have knocked the Bulls out of playoff contention while guaranteeing us a first round bye. In a game in which the Union collapsed and lost, Zach was visibly out of his depth.
In 2013, Zach spent the entirety of the calendar year with Hoffenheim’s U-19 side. He was unable to break into the team, appearing only 9 times while scoring 2 goals.
This year, Pfeffer had the unfortunate luck of returning to a side led by John Hackworth, a “youth guru” who hated playing youth. The only youngsters to break into Hackworth’s sides were Jack McInerney and Amobi Okugo – two players who were already well-known and well developed.
It took fans chanting “We Want Pfeffer” during a 5-3 thrashing from New England for Zach to finally see his first minutes of 2014. He started the next game, but he was subbed at the half. He has not seen any minutes since then.
In part, Zach has often been away with the U-20 side. Interim manager Jim Curtin recently loaned him to Harrisburg, suggesting Zach still needs to fight to break into the Zolo’s 18.
Why should we be excited?
Zach has been highly rated for a while among U.S. soccer analysts. Last year, American Soccer News listed Zach as one of the next top American players.
This year, Zach has had a lot of success with the U-20 national team, having notched 3 goals and 3 assists in seven appearances for the Yanks in 2014. While he may not be contributing for the Union, Zach is still making the most out of the minutes he is receiving.
No Zolo has as much potential as Zach. Though he has yet to break into the team, Zach is still only 19. Next year and the following year will be key for his development. Though he has all this potential, Zach finally needs to start putting it together for the Union.
He should hope that the next manager shows more a willingness to play youngsters than Hackworth or Curtin. The Union have a worrying trend of stunting the development of young players. If the rumors are true and Rene Meulensteen signs on, Zach should finally get the opportunities to make an impact for this club (Meulensteen is big into youth development)
Zach’s ceiling is immense. Should he put everything together, Zach’s future lies in Europe and with the senior U.S. Men’s National Team. For now, keep a close eye on him at Harrisburg.
This is the first entry of what I hope I will be a long-running discussion on the Philadelphia Union youth system. Union Made will discuss the Union Academy as well as the Zolos of the future. It seemed appropriate to start this series with one of my largest frustrations with this team: the lack of fluidity between the Academy and the team.
The Union’s Youth Policy
Since the founding of this team, Nick Sakiewicz has emphasized youth development. Early on, he stated his ambition of fielding a starting 11 of local players. To accomplish this, most of our early money was invested in the academy at the expense of a training facility and big name players. Union part-owner Richie Graham built the YSC development complex and a high school for Union youth players. Former Rangers coach Tommy Wilson was hired to oversee this operation. The team has gone all in with their emphasis on youth.
In some ways, we are beginning to see the fruits of our labor. The Union were recently rated as having the best academy system in the East. However, this is where the problem starts. Where is our Yedlin, Fagundez, Najar, or O’Neill? We may have a good system in place and talented players, but it does not matter if we do not play our youth.
Right now, the Union have three homegrown players on the roster: Zach Pfeffer, Jimmy McLaughlin, and Cristhian Hernandez. Pfeffer is a highly rated USMNT prospect. Cristhian was the academy player of the year when we signed him. Jimmy has been absolutely fantastic at Harrisburg this year.
Despite their potential, none of the players have been able to break into the team to see significant minutes in their professional careers. Pfeffer only saw minutes this year when the irate River End began chanting “We want Pfeffer” during a blowout.
The futility of our youth pipeline was most evident to me in 2012 after Hack had been hired full-time. The season was over. We were out of playoff contention, and Hack had the job. Instead of giving our youth some experience since results were pointless, Hack stuck with the same group of players who had underperformed. This “baffling” player selection foreshadowed Hack’s unwillingness to play and develop youth during his tenure.
Over the past few years, we have seen Keon Daniel, Gabriel Gomez, Josue Martinez, Andrew Wenger, Danny Cruz, Antoine Hoppenot, and Leo Fernandes receive significant minutes with this team.
Several of these players are not with the team now. Others sit on the bench. Some still see time. Yet, they all saw minutes over our homegrown players. This is a damning critique of the Union’s youth plan for me. Where would Pfeffer’s development be right now if he had received the lion’s share of Keon’s or Leo’s minutes in 2012 and 2013?
The same can be said about this year. Leo, Wenger, Fred, Lahoud and Hoppenot have been either ineffectual or have proven that they do not have much a ceiling. Why not give the homegrowns and Ribeiro their minutes while seeing if they can contribute now?
I have been disappointed by Curtin’s inability to use these players. He is still new, so I will give him some time. However, as we fall out of the playoff hunt, it should be a major necessity to play these players and give them some much needed experience.
The Harrisburg Problem
In my own opinion, the Harrisburg partnership has been problematic for the Union. Part of it comes down to simple geography. Harrisburg is several hours away from Philadelphia. It is not the most convenient situation to swap players. For example, it is not the easiest to call Jimmy back up to the team on a Sunday and send him back on a Thursday while swapping his loan spot with Hoppenot during this time. This has limited the opportunity for our on loan prospects to earn time during a period of congested fixtures.
At the same time, Harrisburg is a completely separate organization. The Union only have so much influence over the Islanders. Simple things such as training or selection are out of the Union’s hands.
Take, for example, Pedro Ribeiro. The first round midfielder has played several times as centerback for the Islanders. This is counter-productive in developing him as a midfield option for this team. He needs to be seeing minutes in the position he will be playing for the Union, not serving as Harrisburg’s Wheeler-esque experiment.
It’s been mentioned many times on Big Soccer, but the Union need to create their own USL team in the fashion of Los Angeles. The Philadelphia Union II would play at PPL (or the mythical training facility). The team would feature multiple players on the fringe of the first 11 as well as academy players and trialists. Jimmy could play on a Thursday and still be local and available to play on Saturday. If the Union want to take the next step in developing our youth, we need to fully control their development rather than out-sourcing players to a minor league team.
How do the Union get the most out of their academy? The manager hunt is a terrific opportunity to address this problem. Hack was marketed as a youth guru who was good at developing young players. However, he did not develop a single young player under his tenure. One of the priorities in the manager hunt should be to find someone who actually emphasizes youth development.
The Union have the infrastructure in place. Now, the team needs to take the next step forward. MLS 3.0 is here. Teams like Seattle, Toronto, New York City, and Orlando are bringing talent such as Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Defoe, David Villa, and Kaka to MLS. The Union can’t keep up financially. Our youth development will be a big component of competing in this new MLS. As we search for a new manager, now is the time to put the proper system in place to finally reap the fruit of our labors.