SJvSEA Homegrowns Sider Leyva V2

Amid a brutal stretch of matches, the Seattle Sounders needed to find a way to rotate. It was simply unsustainable to send the same 11 players onto the pitch night in and night out.

So, in Wednesday’s 3-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes — the sixth fixture in 19 days in the month of September — Head Coach Brian Schmetzer opted for a pair of teenagers in central midfield in Josh Atencio and Danny Leyva. Schmetzer rested Brazilian veteran João Paulo, who is having an MLS Best XI and MVP-caliber season, and threw his young Homegrowns into the lion’s den together on the road.

Atencio, 19, and Leyva, 18, were tremendous and helped Seattle extend its Western Conference lead.

“Both of them played very well,” Schmetzer said of the duo. “I thought this was one of Danny Leyva’s best games here. You saw what you all believe he can be, which is a good connector. He’s a very cerebral player, a very smart player. He puts himself in the right positions to help us in possession. Defensively tonight, I thought he did a lot of work.

“He kept battling, he kept fighting,” Schmetzer continued. “As we closed the game out, I was very impressed with Danny to have the mental strength to keep pressing at the right moments, keep finding the extra pass at the right moments to sustain possession for us when we had heavy legs. I thought Danny was terrific tonight.”

Billed as prospects and depth pieces as recently as last season, Atencio and Leyva have evolved into bona fide contributors on the league’s second-best team in the table. The pair has combined for 20 starts and 1,800 minutes this season and has afforded Schmetzer the flexibility to give someone like João Paulo, who came on at halftime to replace Atencio, a much-needed breather.

“We’ve played together a few times in the past few weeks,” Leyva said of his partnership with Atencio. “The first few times, we were trying to gain confidence with each other and trying to see how we both play together. Today, we did really well together: in our movements, showing for the ball, supporting the center backs and being on the same page. The communication was really important.

“It’s different than playing in an Academy game together and then playing an MLS together,” Leyva added. “As time goes by, we gain experience, we learn, we learn from mistakes and today we showed a really good game together.”

Atencio and Leyva helped lead the Sounders to their ninth road win of the season, tying a club record set in 2011. Seattle is averaging an incredible 2.23 Points Per Game away from Lumen Field (9-2-2), which is the best mark in MLS.

“The guys in the locker room are all tough kids, they understand what it takes to win away from home,” said Schmetzer. “This club, this organization, has always been a good road team.

“[Late Head Coach] Sigi [Schmid] was a very accomplished coach, and I think he and I saw things the same way,” Schmetzer continued. “Sigi didn’t make many changes home or away. We tried to play the same way all the time. That effect, that continuous message throughout our club’s history is what you’re seeing in a season like today…If you defend well on the road, you’re going to win games. And I thought defensively we were very good tonight.”

The Sounders will look for their third consecutive win on Sunday (7 p.m. PT; FOX 13+, Prime Video, 1090 KJR AM, El Rey 1360AM | TICKETS) when they welcome the Colorado Rapids to Seattle in a massive six-pointer atop the Western Conference standings.

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