[AMERICANS ABROAD]American teenager Zach Pfeffer is leaving the Philadelphia Union to join German club Hoffenheim on a one-year loan. The deal comes as no surprise. He had trained with the Bundesliga club in 2010 but could not sign since FIFA rules prevent players from signing with a foreign club before they are 18. Pfeffer's loan deal with Hoffenheim starts Jan. 7 -- the day after his 18th birthday.
Pfeffer signed the Union as its first homegrown signing in December 2010 and made his MLS debut in September 2011 at the age of 16. He only played four first-team games in two MLS seasons.
Two other Americans, Joe Gyau and Charles Renken, joined Hoffenheim after they turned 18. Gyau and Renken, who had been "parked" at the Vancouver Whitecaps residency academy after leaving the U.S. U-17 residency program, are no longer at Hoffenheim. Renken was recently waived by the Portland Timbers. Gyau is loan to Bundesliga 2 club St. Pauli.
Like Renken and Gyau, Pfeffer had been part of the U.S. U-17 residency program but left before representing the USA at a world championship. Pfeffer has been playing for the U.S. U-18 national team
Pfeffer joins fellow Pennsylvanian Russell Canouse at Hoffenheim. The 17-year-old Canouse, who hails from Lancaster and played on the New York Red Bulls academy team, signed a three-year contract with Hoffenheim in January 2012. Canouse, who captained Hoffenheim's U-17s, was able to get around the FIFA transfer restrictions for youth players because his father had moved to Germany for work.
German-Americans Danny Williamsand Fabian Johnson play for Hoffenheim, though neither began their pro careers at the club.
Backed by software billionaire Dietmar Hopp, Hoffenheim went from the fifth level of German soccer to the Bundesliga in 2008 -- a span of eight years.
With such players as former Saint Louis University star Vedad Ibisevic and Demba Ba, now at Newcastle, Hoffenheim was the "Herbstmeister" (fall champion) in 2008. It finished seventh in 2008-09 and 11th each of the last three years.
Hoffenheim is suffering through its worst season since its climb to the top. It is in 16th place in the 18-team Bundesliga after 15 games.