As debuts go, you couldn’t have done much better than RSL Academy products Richie Ledezma and Sebastian Soto in their first caps for the U.S. National Team on Monday.
Both received their first full national team call-ups for the current run of friendlies for the U.S. in Europe. After they both sat the bench in the first match of the camp against Wales on Thursday, they eagerly awaited their first opportunity to shine on the field against Panama on Monday.
That moment came first for Ledezma in the 68th minute when he entered the match for Giovanni Reyna, the Borussia Dortmund midfielder who scored the first U.S. goal of the match back in the 18th minute. Nine minutes later, Soto replaced Nicholas Gioacchini after the Caen (France) forward scored two first-half goals.
After just six minutes on the field together, the duo combined for a goal to put the U.S. up 4-2. Taking the ball on the corner of the box on the right side, Ledezma put a cross right to the edge of the six-yard box where Soto evaded his defender to nod a header inside the far post for his first international goal. Then in stoppage time, they did it again to cap off a 6-2 victory. Again coming from the right side but deeper on the wing this time, Ledezma sent a ball to the far post and Soto peeled off his defender to get on the end of it to put another header past the Panama keeper.
“As an organization we are proud of the role we have played in the development of Sebastian and Richie. It was very exciting to see them take the next step in their careers with the full Men’s National Team this week,” RSL General Manager Elliot Fall said. “We have seen them excel in their progression since before they came to us at the Academy and have enjoyed watching them grow since. Their success is further affirmation of our commitment to youth development and our ability to help players climb to great heights and reach their sporting goals.”
The duo showed a propensity to combine for goals that was first polished at the RSL Academy and developed over two seasons together with the RSL badge on their chests.
Soto first arrived with the RSL Academy in the 2015-16 season and tallied five goals in 18 appearances for the U-15/16 team. The next season, Ledezma joined him in the RSL Academy and the duo exploded. Soto notched 35 goals in 35 games for the U-15/16s and added another in his lone appearance for the U-17/18s. Ledezma had five goals in 40 games and frequently set up Soto for his opportunities, setting the stage for their final season together.
In the 2017-18 season, Ledezma had 13 goals in 30 games for the U-18/19 team and was named the USSDA Western Conference Player of the Year while Soto led the country with 46 goals in 31 games.
Both were highly-sought and took the opportunity to pursue their dreams in Europe – Ledezma with PSV Eindhoven in Holland and Soto with Hannover 96 in Germany. After limited first-team playing time, Ledezma made his PSV debut on November 1, while Soto made the move to Telstar in the Dutch second division on loan from Norwich City. With Telstar, Soto scored two goals in his club debut and now has five goals in seven appearances.
In addition, they have gained experience at the U.S. Youth levels, playing together with the U-23 and U-20 levels. With the Olympics pushed back to the summer of 2021, both are in the mix for the U.S., who is in the midst of qualifying.
Real Salt Lake retains the MLS rights to both players.