Emmanuel Ledesma: “I have seen a lot of crazy things. Now we have one more step to put all the bad things out and the good things come in.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
By Michael Lewis
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Since turning pro in 2008, Emmanuel Ledesma has been around the block and then some.
He has played for 14 soccer teams in his native Argentina, England, Italy, Greece and the United States.
So, he has endured and experienced much trying to establish a career.
Yet, nothing has prepared the 29-year-old attacking midfielder on what has transpired this year with the Cosmos.
In fact, Ledesma called it the craziest season of his 10-year career.
“It has been one crazy year because we passed through a lot of things with the club,” he said. “I was here when we started in the beginning. I have seen a lot of crazy things. Now we have one more step to put all the bad things out and the good things come in.”
He had signed with a team in March that had been revived only two months prior and he was struggling to find his fitness. Then he suffered an injury and the rest of the season for him was catching up to his form.
In many respects, the two-time defending NASL champions were in the underdog role and while trying to find their form. They struggled defensively and started a home-field tradition of leaving points on the table. They clinched a playoff berth on the final regular-season game of the season — Ledesma registered a hat-trick — in a 5-2 home win over Puerto Rico FC Oct. 30.
While the Cosmos were trying to gain some traction, the NASL had its Division Two status for 2018 stripped away by the U.S. Soccer Federation, casting doubt on whether the league would return next year.
“Now, one more step and the season is done,” Ledesma said. “Then we are here. That’s the most important thing. Too many people don’t believe [that] the New York Cosmos play in the playoffs. Many people didn’t believe we would win against Miami and we then we win. I think, too, too many things about the New York Cosmos not winning win the final. We’re going there, and we’ll do our best. I don’t know if we will win or lose, but we’ll give our 1,000 percent.”
There is Kezar Stadium, where the Cosmos will meet the San Francisco Deltas for the NASL crown in The Championship.
With all that tumult happening off the field, Ledesma and his teammates have kept their focus on the pitch.
The former Middlesbrough player figured if it was out of sight, it would be out of his mind.
“I didn’t think of these things,” he said. “Now, I am thinking the game, the final, training every day. When the season is over, then I will start thinking about the future. If you start right now, I get confused. My mind goes crazy and then I have a lot of things in my mind and I lose the focus in the game. For me, now, it’s more game, the final and that’s it.
“I know maybe next week I start to think, talking to my agent about what happened. For now, I’m focusing in training every day. I go back to my house, enjoy my family, with the kids and stay with that situation.”
With the Cosmos playing with their backs to the wall during the final several weeks of the regular season, Ledesma figured the team is in top form.
“We already have played a lot of finals,” he said. “We have one more.
“We play every game like it was a final. We were positive, and we believed in ourselves.”
Ledesma indicated he was confident in the Cosmos getting the job done.
“We know the stadium, we know the players, we know everything,” he said. “But we know our team. We know our potential. For us, it’s one more game, one more step.
“No pressure in this game. It’s a game. You have to enjoy it. You play football. We do what we want to do. Just enjoy it. Smile, try the best you can.”
Ledesma gave head coach Giovanni Savarese much credit for his season.
“The title says he’s a coach,” he said. “On the field, he’s more than a coach. He’s a friend, He’s another player. He’s a great man.
“Honesty, that’s the most important thing, his honesty with each player. So I think he’s one of the best coaches in my career. I said to him, if he came before in my career, I think my career would have been a little bit different because he knows me. In a little time, he understands me. He understands what I need, and he takes everything of the best of me, he takes away. He can do it.
“Sometimes I have been in clubs, maybe the manager doesn’t understand what I need. He understands. He helped everyone inside the changing room, outside on the training field, with the family. He’s a family man.”
Though he played in only 19 regular-season matches, starting 17 games, Ledesma led the Cosmos with 10 goals while adding six assists.
“I always tried to improve myself,” Ledesma said. “I do a little bit more in training. In the game, that’s what Gio asks me. Every single day, you have to give a little bit more. I learn a little bit more every single day, because of Gio, because of the players. I want to say thank you for everyone because this is not a great season just for me. It’s for everyone. This about the team. I’m scoring the goals because they’re giving the ball. This is team work that we have shown in the game.”