Local soccer player Nick Ledesma will be playing in front of 30,000 people. The 19-year-old recently signed a contract with the U-19 Alemannia Aachen, who play at the enormous Tivoli Stadium in Germany.
This is a big deal, and a chance for Ledesma to shine and possibly ink his name to an even bigger deal, or contract, in the future.
The Alemannia Aachen is a traditional team in the Second Bundesliga, the top league for the U-19 age division in that country. It also features some of the best players in the world and well-known squads like FC Koln, Borussia Monchengladbach, Schalke, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, Bochum and Arminia Bielefeld.
Ledesma’s feat is the equivalent to signing with a Dodgers or Angels farm team, and though he has only played in a friendly matchup with his new team, he’s soaking up the experience.
“Signing that contract was a great feeling and it’s a great step for me,” Ledesma said. “The entire journey of how I have come to play in Germany has been surreal.”
Indeed. It’s a journey that began when Ledesma started playing soccer, which occurred — in his own words — as soon as he learned to walk. Though he broke in with AYSO teams in West Los Angeles and Pacific Palisades, making all-star teams for both regions, he eventually joined the more competitive club soccer scene, joining Galaxy Alliance Soccer Club and later the Chivas USA Academy for two years in the U-16 division. Though he made the Palisades High varsity squad as a freshman, he never committed to that squad full time because the rules for academy and semi-pro soccer didn’t allow him to do both.
At the age of 17, he made a semi-pro team in Simi Valley called FC Hasental. It consisted of mostly college players and ex-pros.
His destiny then changed forever when he met professional and veteran soccer player Jordan Older, who saw Ledesma playing for a local amateur soccer team.
Older, who has played professionally in Brazil and Europe, had founded King Sports Management and Ventura County FC to help young players realize their dream of playing professionally in Europe, and he believed that Ledesma possessed the talent to make the transition overseas.
“I didn’t have anyone really helping me out,” Older said. “Nick and I were both playing on the same team, and we got to know each other . . . I thought that his talent could take him a little further so I recommended him.”
Older has only recommended one other player, making Ledesma his second referral. He did not profit from helping either player sign.
Last year, Ledesma, then 18, made his first trip to Germany, where he underwent a series of tryouts with multiple teams. He even received an offer to play for the U-19 German Bundesliga, but that deal fell through due to complications with international visas and release forms.
Undeterred, Ledesma returned to Germany in January to go through the same arduous trials.
“He’s got a lot of perseverance to go back,” Older said.
This time the Alemannia Aachen offered him a six-month contract, which he signed by the Jan. 31 deadline.
“As a kid I often dreamed of playing for a European team,” said Ledesma, whom King Sports Management listed as living in Palos Verdes before his departure. “I think a lot of youth players in America grow up watching Spanish, English and German football like I did, and they think, ‘I wanna play there.’”
Ledesma made some changes to his game to play in Germany. Though he played as a left-wing defender in the United States, he has become a center midfielder, taking on a more offensive role. He also stands at 5 foot 8 and must learn to shadow taller German players.
“Some of them might be 6-4 or 6-5,” Older said. “But there are a lot of great players who are Nick’s size — like Pele, I think.”
Older believes Ledesma might encounter bigger obstacles off the field, such as culture shock and homesickness. Yet Ledesma, who resides in a town along the Belgium border near Aachen, Germany, seems to have adapted to his new environment. He’s even stopped using his cell phone to communicate with family and friends, typing messages via Skype, as he did for this interview.
“Life is an adventure every day,” Ledesma said. “The culture in Germany is very different to American life, for sure. I have made sure to keep an open mind when trying new cuisine and meeting new people.”
He has contended with an unfamiliar climate, too, one that’s much colder than Palos Verdes.
“The snow here has caused some games and practices to be canceled,” Ledesma said. “Snow is something I have never had to deal with while playing soccer in California.”
Ledesma will get to play in warmer weather; he has until summer to prove himself. If he does, he can land a spot with another team, which would be in the U-23 division and for a more lucrative contract.
“Who knows?” Older said. “There are a lot of teams and word travels fast, so it’s all up to Nick. Let’s see how he performs. He could possibly sign for millions of dollars, if he makes enough goals.”
Travis Perkins is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to the News.