Richie Ledezma reflects on journey from Real Salt Lake to Europe, US men's national team

Richie Ledezma - US national team - USMNT - U-20 World Cup vs. France - June 4, 2019

In the space of just a couple weeks, Richie Ledezma has seen quite the rise in his career trajectory. 

The 20-year-old US men's national team prospect is currently playing his club soccer for Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, where he worked his way through the ranks to make his first-team debut on November 1 and picked up an assist. Now, Ledezma is hoping that Monday's friendly for the USMNT against Panama will be the opportunity to make his debut on the international level, after receiving his first career call-up from coach Gregg Berhalter into senior camp.

"I'm still trying to take it all in," Ledezma told reporters on a Sunday video call. "Honestly, it's a dream come true. I'm only 20 years old, making that transition from America to Europe, it's not an easy thing to do, especially living on your own for many years. Obviously it's emotional to me and emotional to my family and we're still all trying to take it in."

Monday could very well be Ledezma's chance, with Berhalter saying on Sunday that expects to mix up his personnel to some degree coming off his team's 0-0 draw against Wales in which Ledezma didn't feature.

Berhalter also spoke highly of the young midfielder and of his future potential to contribute to the program.

"I haven’t met him at all, this is the first time I’ve met him, and he’s such a great kid," Berhalter said. "One of the real highlights of this trip was me meeting him and working with him. Really positive attitude, nice technical player, good in between the lines. We’re going to continue to cheer him on and hope he gets some game time at PSV because he’s got a real bright future."

Playing at the international level will be an adjustment, but Ledezma said he's used to being in unfamiliar territory, with valuable experience gained from his transition from playing his youth soccer with Real Salt Lake into the PSV system.

That applies on a personal level, but also on the field.

"It's different coming from my club," he said. "At my club we play a 4-2-2-2, so if Gregg wants to play something else, that's fine with me. I feel like adapting to it, I've been on it. I watched the first game versus Wales and I was focusing mainly on the midfield so I could see what I can do if I go in, or if I start or going versus Panama. So that's one of the key things that I saw and I feel like that's going to help me going into tomorrow's game."

"I had to adapt to a lot of things [moving to PSV], especially their football," he added. "Their football is different from where I played at RSL. What I mean by that is the pace of the game is much faster, even in the youth, when I was with the Under-19s and [the second team], it's so much different. I had to adapt to a lot of things, quick-passing, quick thinking, and trying to get a shot off early, trying to get a quick pass early. That's helped me a lot in my game. I took into my debut and I got an assist. It wasn't the best assist, it wasn't nothing amazing, but it still counts as an assist."

Another factor that might stand to help the transition is Ledezma's familiarity with some of his young teammates who he played with as a member of the US U-20 squad. 

Ledezma said players from that team like Tim Weah and Chris Richards have made a point of helping each other out as they look to make their mark on the senior team and show that they should be a part of the fold as the group heads towards World Cup Qualifying.

"It's cool seeing other people that have been to the U-20 World Cup go to the [senior] men's national team," Ledezma said. "We're helping each other, we're asking the older guys obviously because they have experience and we're new to this whole system. We're helping each other, passing the ball to each other in training, believing in each other, and doing the little things."