Danny Leyva is an extremely driven individual.
Every offseason, Leyva creates a list of goals he’d like to achieve in the upcoming year. Adorned on the wall of his childhood bedroom in Las Vegas, Nev., the list covers his ambitions on and off the pitch.
After a strong 2019 campaign – he impressed in several starts for the First Team in MLS, guided the U-17s to become the first MLS side to win the Generation adidas Cup Champions Division, and earned a place in the U.S. U-17 World Cup team – Leyva’s objectives for 2020 reflected his desire to build upon that breakout season.
“It was an awesome experience to play in First Team games in packed stadiums,” Leyva told SoundersFC.com. “It was a great experience for a young kid. Obviously, I was nervous at times, but it taught me a lot of things and prepared me well for the future.”
2020 seemed to start on a similar upward trajectory for Leyva. He came off the bench against C.D. Olimpia in Concacaf Champions League in Honduras and started against the Chicago Fire in the MLS regular season opener at Lumen Field.
Unfortunately, Leyva’s hopes of expanding upon his promising first season in 2020 were put on hold. A fractured fifth metatarsal suffered during the MLS is Back Tournament sidelined Leyva just as matches had returned following the league’s four-month layoff due to COVID-19.
“It was a big blow for me because I felt like I was training really well, was going to be part of the team,” said Leyva. “When you’re out injured for so much time, you can feel a little bit lonely. You want to be part of the team and you always want to be playing.”
Leyva in the Starting XI for Sounders FC's 2020 MLS regular season opener against Chicago Fire FC | Mike Fiechtner
With the season so compressed, Leyva missed the majority of the campaign as he recovered from injury. The significant momentum the 17-year-old midfielder had built throughout 2019 and the early stages of 2020 came to a halt.
According to Leyva, he was able to lean on veterans like Nicolás Lodeiro for support. The months spent recovering taught him valuable lessons as he seeks to re-establish himself and make up for lost time in 2021.
“It just gave me more time to focus on other aspects of my game like getting stronger mentally and physical,” he said. “It just showed me that there’s going to be tough moments throughout your career, but you have to be mentally strong to overcome them and come back stronger.”
Leyva doesn’t have to look far to find an example of a Sounders Homegrown Player who missed a season through injury and came back better than ever.
The young central midfielder was in Seattle’s Academy when Jordan Morris tore his ACL at the start of 2018. And Leyva was Morris’ First Team teammate when he won Comeback Player of the Year in 2019 and was an Landon Donovan MVP finalist in 2020.
“It’s a great motivation, especially seeing where he’s at now with Swansea,” Leyva said of Morris’ comeback. “Obviously, it was a big blow for him with his injury, but I feel like he came back a great professional and had a couple of breakout seasons.
“[Morris] just told me to come back stronger,” Leyva continued. “Seeing him able to come back from that injury, which was way longer than mine, it just motivates me and shows me that I can come back like him and have a great season.”
Leyva back in training toward the end of the 2020 MLS regular season | Bryan Babcock
Like Morris, Leyva hopes to use the hard lessons he was forced to learn about professional soccer as a catalyst for growth this season. On the current squad, he cites fellow central midfielder João Paulo as a mentor whose game he hopes to emulate.
“I really like the way he plays,” Leyva said of the Brazilian midfield maestro. “I kind of run my game through his, just watching him play, how he prepares for matches, and how he reads the game. He’s a really smart player. He always dictates the tempo and is always involved. He’s also got that aggressiveness and gets into tackles. He’s a perfect example. I always ask him for advice and try to implement some of his qualities into my game.”
Heading into the 2021 season, Leyva has already put together his list of goals for the coming campaign. His objectives reflect the internal drive and competitiveness that have only grown in the past year.
“As a team, we made it to two finals in a row,” said Leyva. “I want to make it to the final again. Individually, I just want to become a starter, get more regular minutes, and have a bigger role on the team. I want to make a bigger impact with the team and hopefully breakout this year.”