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American teenager Richie Ledezma is hitting his stride at PSV

When Richie Ledezma finished off his recent standout performance for Jong PSV against Jong AZ, which included two goals and an assist, he figured to hear plenty of congratulatory messages.

One of the first came in person, in his locker room, from an enthusiastic former coach who couldn’t wait to let Ledezma know how happy he was.

“Dale cabron” said Ruud Van Nistelrooy, the Dutch legend and PSV U-19 coach who was Ledezma’s first coach at the Dutch powerhouse, as he enthusiastically congratulated his former player. Van Nistelrooy has long been a believer in Ledezma’s quality, and also knew full well what the young American had endured in the past year to get to that point.

A year ago, Ledezma was a young American prospect still unsure where his professional career would begin. A skilled attacking midfielder capable of playing as a number 10 or number 8, Ledezma was torn between signing with Real Salt Lake as the team’s latest academy product, or pursuing his dream of succeeding in Europe. Ledezma eventually chose Europe and PSV, but a cruel twist of fate threatened to ruin the plans.

Shortly after reaching a handshake agreement with PSV to sign with the club in the winter, Ledezma returned to Phoenix eager to start working on his game so he would be ready for the move.

“I got back from the Netherlands, from my trial, and I went to the park,” Ledezma told SBI. “They said I need to work on my left foot so obviously I’m going to work on my left foot, so I went to the park with my dad and I was just working on my left foot. I planted my foot to shoot with my left, and I planted my right foot and it just kind of twisted. I was still good, still running, and after a while I thought something doesn’t feel right.

“Then after 20 minutes I couldn’t feel my right foot, like something was wrong,” Ledezma said. “So I went straight to the emergency room and they told me I had a fracture on my foot.”

At that point in his career Ledezma hadn’t endured any sort of long-term injury, so the uncertainty of a broken foot left him worried that the future he had lined up at PSV would fall apart.

“I was really scared because it was 100 percent that I was going to sign, but before I got injured,” Ledezma said. “But (PSV) were really nice about it, and they said ‘We still want you”, but I was scared that I wouldn’t be the same I guess. I’d never got injured that bad, even though it wasn’t that bad, but that long.”

Ledezma wound up spending seven months on the sidelines, a period of time that included the Concacaf Under-20 Championships, a tournament he had been expected to star in for the United States. U.S. coach Tab Ramos had long been touting Ledezma as one of the best players on his team, but the broken foot left Ledezma out, leaving him to watch the tournament via online stream.

Ledezma had plenty of reason to celebrate when the U.S. U-20s won the Concacaf title, and qualified for the World Cup. It gave him a new target to shoot for.

“When we qualified for the World Cup I was happy, but then I thought ‘Oh shoot, I’ve got to step up because now there’s players in my position who could take my spot easily’,” Ledezma said.

The emergence of central midfielders Brandon Servania and Frankie Amaya, along with the star performances by Alex Mendez, suddenly left Ledezma a bit of a forgotten piece to the U.S. Under-20 puzzle, but it also served to motivate him as he pushed to make it back in time for the Under-20 World Cup.

There was still the matter of recovering from the foot injury. Ledezma spent three more months sidelined, unable to even kick a ball. He credits Van Nistelrooy with helping keep him focused and engaged through the emotionally-taxing process.

“He would motivate me, push me, and he would tell me ‘be patient. your time will come’,” Ledezma said.

Ledezma eventually recovered enough to play for PSV’s Under-19 team, with Van Nistelrooy making him a starter and instilling confidence in the young playmaker, who admits now to having been surprised by how the former Manchester United star embraced his game.

“I just didn’t think he’d accept me to the team that fast. He trusted me,” Ledezma said. “He was like ‘You can play football. You have that Mexican flair.’ That got me motivated to show him that I do.”

Ledezma rewarded that faith by scoring the first time Van Nistelrooy started him, which also happened to come right before Ramos announced his roster for the Under-20 World Cup. It was no guarantee Ledezma would make that team, but Ramos selected him, even though it was clear he wasn’t close to 100 percent yet.

“It was an amazing feeling, even just getting on the 20-man roster,” Ledezma said. “I really worked hard because I really wanted to go to the World Cup. That was my main goal last season, to go to the U-20 World Cup.

“Even though I didn’t play that many minutes, I thought I played well,” Ledezma said. “It was a really good feeling, My family went to go watch. It was good to see they were out there supporting me and I was making them proud.”

Ledezma began the tournament on the bench, playing sparingly in the group stage, but Ramos turned to Ledezma in the biggest match of the World Cup, the Round of 16 clash against tournament favorite France.

“At first when he said I was starting, I was nervous obviously because it’s a big stage,” Ledeza said. “It felt amazing. I was turning on people, doing what I used to do. It felt good being out there on the field. It was maybe my fourth or third game back, so it felt really good.

“At halftime I was dead. I even told Tab, and he said ‘Can you give me 15 more minutes’ and I said ‘of course’.”

Ledezma shined on the big stage, playing well against the high-powered France team, delivering an assist on the U.S. team’s first goal in an eventual 3-2 upset victory, and showing why he had been such a highly-regarded prospect before the foot injury.

Ledezma’s Under-20 World Cup performance was a high point for him, but his focus quickly turned to returning to PSV and his next goal, making his first-team debut. He has already made the move from the U-19 team to becoming part of PSV’s second team, the Dutch second division side Jong PSV.

Much like his first start for PSV’s U-19s, Ledezma marked his first start with Jong PSV by scoring, only this time he netted two goals along with delivering an assist on September 13th, just a week after his 19th birthday.

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The highlight of the month wasn’t that standout performance though, it was when Ledezma was moved to the PSV first team for a friendly against FC Cologne.

“My first touch of the game, I lost (the ball). I was really nervous,” Ledezma told SBI. “It was shocking playing against first team players, but after a while I started getting rhythm and get counters in. (PSV manager Mark van Bommel) actually put me at my position so he trusted me.

“My goal is obviously to make my debut in the Eredivisie so that was a good experience for me.”

Ledezma will also be hoping to have his play attract the attention of U.S. Under-23 national team coach Jason Kreis. Ledezma wasn’t part of the U-23 team’s most recent camp, a fact that he admits he wasn’t happy about, but one he admits to having motivated him heading into his recent strong run with Jong PSV.

“I was a little disappointed, but it happens. You’re not always going to get what you want,” said Ledezma. “I tried to put myself out there on Friday, so now I’m trying to put myself out there the next game, and keep going. this month is a really big month.”

Ledezma recently made headlines when he revealed to SBI that the Mexican Federation had reached out to him about potentially representing Mexico. He has not ruled out the possibility of playing for Mexico, but admits to still being eager to earn his next U.S. call-up, potentially in October with the U-23 team.

After the lengthy injury ordeal he endured to start the year, Ledezma is finally back to full fitness, as evidenced by the consecutive 90-minute performances he turned in with Jong PSV last week, including a full match against Jong Ajax and fellow Americans Alex Mendez and Joshua Pynadath.

Ledezma is back to his best, only now he is more mature and more determined after what he has already had to endure. His recent performances suggest he is ready to realize the potential that has had coaches from Ruud Van Nistelrooy to Tab Ramos raving about him all this time.


  1. Like a lot of teenagers, he still has to grow into his frame and get stronger. It is unrealistic to think he could handle the rigors of a full-on professional season playing against adults who, BTW, were once pretty good teenagers as well.
    Like most male player under about 23, he will grow and get stronger. When that happens it will then be time to talk about where he fits in the world of professional soccer, but until then, … well the path to success is littered with teenage phenoms who fell to the wayside for one reason or another.
    But still it is exciting to think about what might be.

  2. I’m all for moving forwards and giving young prospects opportunities within the USMNT. However, I still think a young player (like Ledezma) needs to earn an opportunity by at least making a first team appearance for his club side. Until that happens keep them progressing with the US youth teams. In the case of Ledezma that would mean a call-up to the U-23 Olympic team. If they keep progressing & performing with their clubs reserves they’ll get a chance with their 1st teams, and then the Sr. USMNT.
    The talent is out there….we just need to be patient a little longer to allow them to adjust to playing against men (instead of other kids) and adapt to the fitness it requires (mental & physical).
    That being said there are some players who have been commonly called up to the USMNT who do not deserve any more opportunities (Lovitz). And some players who are seeing 1st team minutes who deserve more opportunities (A. Robinson, CCV, EPB, Alvarado, Green, etc…) with the USMNT. The Gold Cup as well as the most recent friendlies have shown that there are still plenty of holes in our player pool. And that GB has to start looking beyond some of his usual MLS Call-ups, and try to integrate more of the younger European based players. He’s already given shots to the young guns from MLS….he needs to do he same with the rest of the pool.

  3. Paxton and servania are young and playing good in mls they were part of that u20 squad. If you ever played soccer you will now that the hardest tasks are the trainings with clubs and Soto Ledesma mendez are doing it at a higher level even at youth level they are just one step away from a much better level than MLS. Name me one young prospect at forward in MlS better than soto. I’m not asking to bring them in 90 min I’m saying bring them in to train to get a taste and give them a few minutes during friendlies. I saw a video on YouTube where the guy is pointing out statistically that there are better players in MLS statistilly he made the point that Joe Corona averages 3 plus tackles in MLS per game more than trap also in assists Edgar Castillo was higher than other current usmnt players. So I am not biased I just know that I have a better opinion for the future but by now there is clearly favoritism by berhalter and among players this is bad because they will be like I’m not going to camp because he has his favorites and I’m clearly better but he will stick with that guy example nagbe. I am a huge us national team fan I have three jerseys that right now are deep in the closet. We have lost pride and style of play that I do see in the youth who us soccer need to speed up and integrate them into the process to help pullisic. Pullisic looked frustrated against Mexico he needs help it can’t just be him alone. The current MlS players zardes Trapp llovitz Baird aren’t good enough.

    • Some would argue that Mason Toye, Ricardo Pepi, Jesús Ferreira, Gianluca Busio, Jeremy Ebobisse could be prospects close to Soto level at the forward position.

      • Not likely Soto showed several great qualities in that u20 tournament. Physical presence position on goal breaking lines onside finishing goal opportunities pressing opponents off the ball holding the ball for midfielders to come up and having that goal poaching characteristic. I agree pepi and busio looked great at u17 they should have beat Mexico in the final. Busio has looked great at u17 and I know that at Kansas City he is getting playing time. Hannover didn’t want to let him free I’m sure he had several offers but they would not budge. The fact that he scored 4 goals and was one of several top scorers tied at 4.

      • Physically Toye and Ebobisse are more ready to face full NT sides. Soto is strong against U19s but what don’t have much sample of him against men. He and Toye split the CF time against Japan U23s and both did well goal for Toye PK drawn for Soto. Busio against men doesn’t do a lot SKC has hardly played him since May. Ferreira has been moved to AM by FCD but I don’t think that’s permanent. Pepi might have the most potential of that whole group but isn’t physically ready for international first team Soccer.

    • Nagbe decline the USMNT call ups to stay with his club team, to compete for the Campeones Cup, and the US Open Cup…and the bonus for him was… he gets to see his family! Interview on the local radio station, here in Atl, cleared it up for me. As for the youth getting called in… I’m n favor of all of them, at the same age playing together, at the same time. I think, it’s good to allow players to gain cohesion. The nations with WC titles have a “golden” generation of players that have been playing together, and won & lost (together), until it the resulted in a WC win! Name a country, that has won a WC and do the research. The last youth movement that yielded results was ‘99 YNT (Lando, DMB, Onyewu, Beckerman). @ the moment, Berhalter has a lot pieces, that look more like ‘Frankenstein’s monster’, with everyone watching like, “Where’s the coordination?” MLS and the academies, aren’t the glaring problem.

  4. But dont kid yourself Yev, he is better than Zardes already at finishing. He needs to mature, but the kid can put the ball away when he gets a chance.

  5. That’s why the top 10 national teams stay successful. They dont play favorites and use youth unlike USA. Mexico does not take chance on youth neither. Lozano should have been fast tracked to senior team at 20.

  6. He’s the kid I expected to start against ecuador after playing very well vs France playing a clinical through ball to Soto for the finish. The youth needs to be called enough with the scared national team supporters who say it’s a process correct they need to come in and see what the next level usmnt is I guarantee you they can handle it and are much more gifted than theese MLS favs of berhalter.

    • Stop with your bias against MLS! These players need to earn it. For now they are playing at a level significantly below MLS. And we are not using random MLS players in USMNT. We are only using players that are close to the top (the very top unfortunately are all foreign).

      You likely wanted Soto to play over Zardes and Altidore too. And he can’t even make the bench for a Bundesliga 2 team

      • While you are correct Yevgeny that Soto isn’t on the bench at his club, there is a lot going on behind the scenes that you may not be aware of. He turned down a new contract, and since he has less thana year left his club has no reason to invest in him. But he hasn’t broken thru. If he has to play so well in training that they have no choice but to play him.

    • @Byrdman
      You are right in that maybe he is good enough to feature for them here and there (outside of those circumstances), but clearly he is not so great right now that Hannover or USMNT cannot afford to not play him

      • Then why did Michael Bradley keep getting minutes for the national team when he was benched at Gladbach for poor play and behavior? When he was at Aston Villa and did even play or suit up? And when he was sitting the bench at Roma?

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