On the heels of a strong PSV debut, Ledezma optimistic for his first USMNT camp
November 05, 2020
WHEN GREGG BERHALTER unveiled his roster for the United States national team’s upcoming friendlies against Wales and Panama, one of the main talking points was that it included 10 players who are uncapped.
Some of these uncapped players were mostly new to the U.S. program while other have been steadily progressing within the youth national team setup for years. Among the latter, Richard Ledezma is one of the players who has shown great promise over recent years but the past week has seen him achieve several critical career milestones.
On Sunday, the Phoenix, Arizona native made his first team professional debut for PSV Eindhoven when he came off the bench in the 74th minute with his club holding a 2-0 on ADO Den Haag. Ledezma was excellent in his time on the field as he assisted on the team’s third goal of a 4-0 win. In total, he completed 100% of his 16 passes – with 12 coming in the attacking half.
Then on Wednesday, further progress was made when Ledezma was named to the U.S. national team for the upcoming friendlies. There was a time when it seemed as if both the United States and Meixco were seeking his services. And while both still are, Ledezma is firmly focused on the United States right now.
“I was speechless,” Ledezma said upon learning of the U.S. call-up. “I went straight to my agent then right after, straight to my mom. It was a good moment for me and my family.”
As big as the past week has been for Ledezma, the next few weeks could be even bigger. On Thursday, PSV will visit PAOK Thessaloniki FC in the Europa League and that game could see Ledezma make his European debut. Then after PSV hosts Willem II in the Eredivisie on Sunday, Ledezma will then travel to Wales to participate in his first camp with the U.S. national team – with his first cap looming.
Ledezma knows many of the players in camp from his youth national team days but could be playing with Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, John Brooks, and Gio Reyna for the first times.
“I'm excited, I can learn a lot from them,” Ledezma said. “Having those players like Christian, Weston and Tyler Adams and John Brooks, I feel like they're going to help the young guys be confident because there's for sure going to be young players making their debuts in the in the games versus Wales and Panama. We're going to need that extra boost in confidence.”
The first team debut at PSV wasn’t surprising for Ledezma as head coach Roger Schmidt told him to be ready before the match. Ledezma believe that was a sign he was going to enter into the game and it turned out to be correct.
When he walked onto the field, Ledezma insists he wasn’t nervous and that it felt like any other game because he felt prepared. He received good feedback afterward from Schmidt and hopes that will carry over into the Europa League on Thursday.
“We were heading into a hard week, so getting three points in the Europa League and then the league games are hard because of the corona cases,” Ledezma explained. “The coach was really happy about our winning. He just told me that he's really proud of me and I really deserve it. So just keep working hard. The other things he said to the whole team was that we have a really young team that we can go far in the Europa League and in the league. Overall, he was proud of the team."
“Now that I'm training every day, mostly every day with the first team - it feels like I'm growing up faster, getting stronger, getting better on my weak foot and not being scared of fighting for the ball and all that stuff,” Ledezma added. “That's the culture here, they like to fight. That's one of the things I learned here, in the Dutch style, they go hard in everything and they work hard for each other. I feel like that's really helped me become a really good team player.”
Richard Ledezma’s assist in his PSV debut... the U.S U-23 playmaker connecting with New Zealand’s Ryan Thomas - who had a great finish. Ledezma went a perfect 16/16 in passing (12/12 in the attacking half) in his 16 mins of action in a 4-0 win over ADO den Haag https://t.co/v2DgWlstnp— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) November 1, 2020
During the October window, there were questions as to whether or not playing time was near for Ledezma as PSV acquired impressive talent – including Mario Gotze - at many positions. But the influx of talent turned out to benefit Ledezma and the moves were welcome news to the American playmaker.
“I feel like we needed players. Look at us now. Now that we've signed so many players, it's helpful. And especially the experienced players like Mario Gotze, it is fun being around him and playing around him. He's just a world-class player. And I can go on - for the whole team. They're all good players. For me, it was just for me to get better as a as a player. That's how I see it.”
Next week will indeed be a big occasion for American fans to watch Ledezma as this will be the first high-profile slate of games he has played for the United States since the 2019 U-20 World Cup when he was the chief playmaker for a team that advanced to the quarterfinals.
The U.S. roster contains seven players from that U-20 team (Ledezma, Tim Weah, Sergino Dest, Chris Richards, Sebastian Soto, Konrad de la Fuente, and Ulysses Llanez) and five of them will arrive in camp looking for their first cap. The players from that team, including those not in this camp, remain close-knit and are all excited to be taking important steps together in their careers.
“I mean I'm really proud of all of them,” Ledezma said. “I mean it's not easy to get into a senior national team at that young of age, especially this many of us. It's great to see that Tab did a really good job with us and he should be really proud of us. We should thank Tab for giving us a chance to show ourselves that the World Cup and thanking each other for making ourselves look good.”
Earlier this week Berhalter told the media that he is looking forward to getting Ledezma into camp for the first time and seeing how it fits into the group and find the best role for him within the squad.
"When you have a roster of 24 players, you can use some spots to look at guys and project and bring them in and see how they interact with the group,” Berhalter said. “Richie is a guy that fits in that category. He can be an important player for the U-23s, and we want to get him in to get a look at him. He has very good ability to make a final pass, a good scoring ability. We see him primarily central [based] but we could have the same type of issue where we're talking about on the defensive side where we are defending in a 4-3-3, can he do that role defensively? We'll see how that works out. PSV has played him wide sometimes as well. He had an assist in the last game with the first team. It was nice to see him get on the field for the first team. But he's really a player with nice talent.”
Moving forward there is a lot of opportunity for Ledezma. In addition to the U.S. team and PSV, there is also the U.S. U-23 team that will attempt to qualify and participate in the Olympics next summer and become the first U.S. team to participate in the men’s tournament since 2008.
Ledezma was slated to be on the qualifying team in March but that tournament was postponed until early 2021. This camp will have an eye to the Olympic team as 19 players are age-eligible for the U-23 team and the Olympic head coach, Jason Kreis, will be on Berhalter’s staff for the upcoming camp.
While there is plenty of competition for Ledezma on the U.S. team, the U-23 team is one where Ledezma could be expected to be a leader.
“Our team, it was great,” Ledezma said of the U-23 team that was slated for qualifying last March. “I mean, we're still missing a lot of players, like Alex Mendez and Sebastian Soto and many more. But it was a group that can do it easily. We had special players and even now, they're getting a name in MLS, like Brendan Aaronson and Mark McKenzie.”
For now, however, the focus is on the upcoming camp, making his debut, proving himself, and getting to know many of his teammates – some of whom he has never met.
“I'm excited and I've never experienced this,” Ledezma said. “This is my first time and I hope I get on the field and can do whatever to help the team - do my thing.”