BERLIN. Football is a dynamic game. If it’s on your side, you feel more confident, your first touches are rarely bad, your shots land inside the rack and everything seems to work perfectly.
Leading the Bundesliga ahead of Bayern Munich, Union Berlin is a team with momentum, and right in the middle is Jordan Pefok. The US international got his second try at breaking into one of Europe’s top leagues, and the momentum is on his side.
– Live Stream: Bayer Leverkusen vs Union Berlin, Sun. November 6, 9:30 AM ET E+
Since his summer move from Young Boys in Switzerland to Union, the striker has scored three goals and provided four more assists in 11 league games. Jordan was signed to replace none other than Taiwo Avoni, who decided to sign with Nottingham Forest.
“Taiwo Avoni was here before he scored a lot of goals,” Jordan told Sportzshala. “[It was] A lot of pressure, because when I moved to Switzerland, I replaced Guillaume Oarau, who was a very important person in Switzerland. But I am a relaxed and calm person. I don’t want to be compared to Taiwo or Guillaume. I just score goals and have fun with my teammates. Everything worked out well in Switzerland and I want the same thing to happen here in Berlin.”
– Sportzshala+ Viewer’s Guide: La Liga, Bundesliga, MLS, FA Cup and more.
However, not everything in his career was successful. In fact, Jordan had to go through several deep valleys to get where he is today.
A $6.6 million move to Union last summer was not the first million dollar move of his career. In 2018, he signed for Ligue 1 club Stade Rennais from his youth club Stade de Reims with the promise of helping Rennais secure a foothold in the top group of the French First Division as they had just had their best campaign in recent memory. . It didn’t work. After 17 goals in 35 Ligue 2 games, Jordan struggled to get off the ground.
“It is true that when I left Reims and moved to Rennes, it was a big step, also financially,” he says. “I struggled with several injuries and couldn’t put together a good streak. This is the most important thing for a footballer – to be on the field and build a series. When I came to Rennes there were players like Hatem Ben Arfa and M’Baye Niang, so when I wasn’t playing they were given a chance, they are good players and they played well. It was complicated”.
Jordan missed almost the entire second half of the 2018-19 season with a hip injury, while the team won their third Coupe de France by beating Paris Saint-Germain in the final. Renne still believed in his $10 million and gave Jordan another chance. Up until December 2019, he usually came off the bench in the last stretches of games, but could not score a single goal. He finished his second season with just one goal to his credit, which came in a 3–0 cup win against fourth tier team ASM Belfort.
“I can say that during the time spent in Rennes, I became much more aware of my body and solved several problems,” says Jordan. “By the time I moved to Switzerland, I had solved most of the problems.”
Leaving Rennes was imminent and the Young Boys were ready to take him on loan for a year. It was a fresh start in the little league in a country where part of the population spoke his language.
Although Jordan chose to represent Team USA, it is striking that he does not speak English at all. The family was born in Washington, D.C. to a Cameroonian family. The family moved to the northeast of France when Jordan was still a child. He never had to learn to speak English, although he understands the language quite well. When asked a question in English, Jordan simply nods and easily answers in French. It must have created some funny moments during his travels with Team USA.
“There is Tim Weah who speaks French,” he says. “There are other players who are trying [laughs] speak a little French, as well as the coaching staff, and it’s funny to me because it helps me relax.”
Asked about his decision to play for the United States rather than France or Cameroon, Jordan gives a plausible reason. “Speaking only about football, when I started playing, the USA contacted me first to talk about getting me selected,” he explains. “Even though it was hard for me at Rennes when I wasn’t playing that much, they always talked to me.”
In 2017, he played twice for France under-21s, including against Cameroon. A year later, the US Football Federation approached Jordan with an offer to move to their national team instead of France. A “yes” answer would have meant Jordan was called up for the summer friendly against France, but he declined, citing his just-completed transfer from Reims to Rennes. He left the door open and communication between him and the federation over the next few years led to his final choice.
“When I was called up to play for the national team, it was easy for me. [to say yes] because they have always been there,” he says.
The US commitment could also make sense from a sporting standpoint because Jordan seems like the kind of talent the US will need in tournaments like the upcoming World Cup in Qatar. However, he was not called up for the last international break.
“I told myself not to worry, this is not the end and this is not the final list. [for the World Cup]he says. “If I could represent the country at the World Cup, I would say a big thank you to them for everything they did, because when I was fighting, they were there to keep my head held high. “
Prosperity in simplicity
Jordan doesn’t wrestle anymore. A return to the Swiss league helped him regain his confidence.
At Young Boys, a team based in the Swiss city of Bern, he quickly became a fan favorite due to his physical style and ability to score. He scored 15 goals in 43 games – one goal every 116 minutes – in his first year. That’s enough to induce the Young Boys to pay the $2.75 million transfer fee and make Jordan’s move permanent. In his second year, he completely exploded, scoring 27 goals and five assists in 45 games, again drawing the attention of scouts from Europe’s top leagues. There were still doubts whether he could live up to expectations, although Union Berlin didn’t hesitate to secure Jordan’s signature before the bigger clubs could act.
“When Union Berlin first contacted me, everything went very well,” Jordan recalls. “What was great was that everything happened quickly. I arrived early and was able to train with my new team as soon as possible.”
Union head coach Urs Fischer is Swiss and remains closely associated with the football scene in his home country. He heard good things about the starting striker and made sure to give him a warm welcome. “[The relationship] Work with the coach also developed quickly, says Jordan. “The only thing he told me was to work for the team. He told me that he knows that I can score goals, but I have to work for the team, that’s the main thing for him. Just work hard for the team and the rest will follow.”
Union’s success formula is based on strong defense. “We protect our goal before we attack it,” Jordan says. In particular, the Berlin club’s sophisticated pressing pattern, which usually pushes opponents to the touchline, where ball carriers are more easily isolated, can be deadly for possession-oriented teams. Union did a brilliant job of neutralizing Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund when each of the top two teams played at the An der Alten Vorsterei stadium.
No luck in the way Union organized their press, nor in their ability to capitalize on certain weaknesses shown by their adversaries. That’s why two Union goaltenders Frederick Ronnow and Lennart Grill have a combined shooting percentage of 82.6%, the highest of any goaltender in the league. Union may allow shots, but they are usually from disadvantaged positions or with sufficient pressure on the shooter.
Once Union has the ball, everything needs to happen as quickly as possible, and that’s when Jordan and his attacking partner Sheraldo Becker can shine. The two are pushed forward in Fischer’s 3-5-2 formation, with Becker providing speed, often moving to the flanks to run along the edge of the backline, and Jordan working his body against the defenders in the center.
“I play in the box and try to read the situation when the ball hits the box,” says Jordan. “Like good players, I’m physically fit and I like to pair up with my attacking partners like Sheraldo, which goes well because it’s easy. He’s a good, technical player and he does it in a simple way, so it’s very easy to understand him.”
Call me Pefok
While the simplicity of Fischer’s attacking system and the fact that Union doesn’t usually spend much time on the ball helped Jordan settle in, it was surprising how quickly he and Becker merged early in the season.
“It’s true that the connection with Sheraldo was established quickly,” says Jordan. “It was fast, because in the first training, maybe on the first day, we started to put into practice what the coach told us. From the very beginning, he told me about his style of play and what he likes to do. , we also get along, which helps, and the results are growing from game to game, and that goes for goals and assists for each other.”
Becker and Avoni formed a strong duo in the second half of last season following the departure of playmaker Max Kruse, although Jordan’s impressive start to life in Berlin allowed fans to forget about Avoni rather quickly. Sure, there were games where Jordan wasn’t effective, but offensive chemistry and Jordan’s presence in the box were important elements of Union’s success. His numbers in terms of goals and assists are not impressive, but are good enough so far.