The Seattle Sounders are off to the best start to an MLS season in club history, taking 17 points from their opening seven matches and leading the Supporters’ Shield standings.
Seattle will feel hard done after its 1-1 home draw with Atlanta United on Sunday, in which it conceded an 86th-minute penalty for the equalizer, but how it’s had its early success has been nothing short of incredible.
The Sounders have gotten just 24 minutes of game time from 2020 MLS Best XI selection Nicolás Lodeiro, who missed the early part of the season with a quad strain and has been recently shut down until mid-June while he recovers from knee inflammation. They’ve also been without fellow 2020 MLS Best XI selection Jordan Morris, who was scheduled to still be on loan at Swansea City, but returned to Seattle with an ACL injury several months ago. Throw in the fact that starting goalkeeper Stefan Frei is out 4-6 weeks with a sprained knee, and this unbeaten start to 2021 becomes all the more impressive.
Part of the reason for this has been the way that the Sounders’ depth players have stepped up, and for the first time since Head Coach Brian Schmetzer took the reins in 2016, they are getting major contributions from youth players who have come through the Academy pipeline. For instance, 18-year-old Homegrown Danny Leyva, who signed in 2019 at the age of 15, played in his fifth straight match on Sunday and figures to be an important piece of this Sounders midfield.
“Last year was a difficult year for me with several injuries, so coming back this season and getting some more game time and being back out there — it’s what I love,” said Leyva. “Getting that experience and being involved with the team, it’s been really good. It’s helping my development and helping me grow as a player.
“I have a lot to add to the team, and every time I step on the field, I’m going to help them out the most I can,” he added. “I’ve been really pleased with the minutes that I’ve gotten, but I have to keep working…The coach having confidence in me gives me a lot of confidence and self-belief to do things right on the field.”
Leyva entered in the 70th minute on Sunday to try and control more of the tempo. He completed all four of his attempted passes in his 20-minute cameo, as well as added an interception and a recovery defensively.
“That’s exactly why I put him on there, was to try and maintain more possession,” said Schmetzer. “We were ahead 1-0, and I wanted to close out the game with more possession. Danny did that again. He connected a few passes for us, it was good.”
Despite conceding the late penalty kick, the Sounders have still yet to allow a goal from the run of play in seven matches, an impressive feat that makes taking points from them painstakingly difficult. Seattle will look to put this draw behind them, as the club welcomes MLS newcomers Austin FC to Lumen Field next Sunday (6:30 p.m. PT; FS1, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM | TICKETS) in its last match before a three-week international break.
“It’s very early in the year, but I’m still very proud of the fact that we’re still undefeated after seven games,” said Schmetzer. “It’s just another record to go into the Sounders’ books. It’s a great accomplishment going 5-0-2 over seven games with the schedule that we’ve had.”
Added Leyva: “We’ve done really well as a team to help each other out and have each other’s backs. We just have to keep continuing that form. Today was a tough result giving up that PK, but sometimes it’s going to be like that. You just have to bounce back and go for the next game.”