On Tuesday, Sounders FC announced that 15-year-old Sounders Academy midfielder Danny Leyva had inked his first professional contract with Sounders FC 2, making him the seventh member of the national-championship winning U-17 side to sign with the club’s USL outfit.
“I’m really happy to sign my first pro contract,” said Leyva. “My goal is now to start getting more minutes with S2 and gain more experience, as well as to score my first goal and get assists.”
Now in his second full year with the club, Leyva split time between the Sounders Academy U-15s and U-17s throughout the 2017-18 season, playing in every playoff match for the U-17s as they secured the club’s first ever U.S. Soccer Development Academy national championship in July. A well-rounded, box-to-box midfielder, the young Sounder registered 11 goals and 13 assists across all competitions with the Rave Green youth teams last season.
Leyva sets up the fourth goal for the U-17s in the USSDA semifinal against Barca Academy, winning back possession and then providing the assist
Leyva became the youngest player in club history to make his professional debut, and the second-youngest player in USL history, when he started in the double-pivot for S2 in a road match against San Antonio FC on September 29, playing the full 90 minutes as he completed 81.8% of his passes and tallied one tackle, two interceptions and five defensive recoveries.
“Danny’s potential is obvious, and it was very evident from his S2 debut in San Antonio,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “He immediately looked like he belonged.”
A native of Las Vegas, Leyva joined Sounders Academy in 2017 from Barcelona USA Academy. In his first match with the Sounders U-15s, a preseason friendly against the United States U-15 national team, he guided Seattle to a 5-2 win with a goal and an assist, which led to the first of his 10 USYNT call-ups. He grabbed the Rave Green’s second goal of the match, winning back possession in midfield and promptly chipping the goalkeeper from 40-yards out.
“It is absolutely well deserved,” Sounders FC Head Scout Sean Henderson, who coached Leyva with the U-15s last season, said of his signing. “Even though he’s young, you can see he has a ton of potential. He does so many things well, on and off the field. We have high hopes that he will continue to develop.
“What sticks out is he was consistently good, every time. Whether it was a practice, or a game with the U-15 team, or a game with the U-17, or now a game with S2, he’s been consistently good. And that’s usually the difference between whether a player can make it or not.”
Leyva plays a line-breaking pass to the feet of Shandon Hopeau in his S2 debut against San Antonio FC
Much like his Academy compatriots who’ve signed with S2 – Azriel Gonzalez, Marlon Vargas, Ray Serrano, Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, Danny Robles and Alec Diaz – Leyva says the Academy’s philosophical commitment to taking top prospects out of their comfort zone by playing them above their age group has helped accelerate his development, making him more comfortable competing against fully-fledged professionals.
“I feel like the experience that they give at the youth level, being younger and playing 2-3 years up, eases the transition to the USL level,” said Leyva. “I’ve been playing up most of the time, and it helps you get used to playing against older guys – how to be more technical and smarter because I might not be as fast as them. But it’s a big credit to the Academy for doing that with the young players, and it really helps.”
A cerebral, hard-working, all-action central midfielder, Leyva will continue to play matches with the Academy throughout the USL offseason. He’s been able to build chemistry with the guys on the S2 roster, though, as he started training with the team a couple of times per week towards the tail-end of the 2018 season. And on Sunday, he trained with the Sounders FC First Team for the first time, with midfielder Cristian Roldan offering him some advice when they took the pitch.
With S2’s season wrapping up on Saturday, Leyva is excited for the youth movement to continue next season, hoping to help improve the team’s results in 2019.
“My goal is to do well next season,” he said. “And as a team, to get into the playoffs.”