Ledesma’s emotional night ends with goal

Emmanuel Ledesma dropped his head, prayed and began to weep.

Seconds earlier, his penalty rippled the net and The Bailey roared. In a 5-1 loss, it was the lone consolation.

But none of that mattered.

What mattered was that Manu scored, and to whom he dedicated his goal.

“Thursday afternoon, I lose my dad in Argentina,” Ledesma said. “He never saw me play football, not even when I was a kid. It was because of life. Today, he watched me. I dedicated this goal. I know it’s a bad loss, but I want to dedicate this goal to my father.”

Soccer is an emotional game, and losing a match 5-1 at home will certainly generate plenty of emotions.

But then there are moments likes Ledesma’s penalty, that meant nothing on the scoresheet, but everything Saturday night.

When the Argentine scored, he quickly grabbed the ball and ran toward midfield. Along the way were the prayer and tears. Elsewhere on the sideline, Head Coach Ron Jans stood with his arms cross and a smile.

Earlier in the week, Ledesma learned he wouldn’t be starting Saturday against Toronto FC at Nippert Stadium. Joe Gyau, who was seeking his first MLS start, was going to replace him.

With that in mind, Ledemsa went to Jans with a favor.

“I say, ‘If you have any chance to put me on, please give me that chance because I have to score for him. I have to respect him from far away,’” he said. “I want to say thank you to the coach for giving me that opportunity and thank you to the teammates to giving me the ball to kick the penalty.”

Five matches remain for the Orange and Blue in their inaugural MLS season. For Ledesma, the reigning USL MVP, the penalty was his sixth goal this season, which now leads the expansion franchise.

Manu said he discussed going back to South America for the funeral, but said he likely won’t travel.

“I have my two kids, I have work to respect and a club to respect,” the winger said. “I have a lot of things to respect. A lot of people asked me if I’m going to Argentina, but it’s not going to change anything. I prefer to play today, score a goal and dedicate it to him because maybe he watched me from the sky.”

When the match ended, Ledesma cried again as he walked around the stadium thanking fans who stayed for their support. During his postgame interview, he fought tears as he tried to say the right words.

And then when that was over, and when the locker room was nearly deserted, one of Manu’s sons stormed into the locker room and they hugged.

On the back of the kid’s jersey read: no. 45 DAD.