Wednesday’s friendly between Seattle Sounders FC and Uruguay’s Club Nacional de Football was a night that Tacoma Defiance midfielder Danny Leyva will always remember.
Leyva, 15, entered the match in the 67th minute, replacing Designated Player and team captain Nicolás Lodeiro to make his CenturyLink Field debut.
“It was really great, just the atmosphere with the fans cheering,” Leyva said after the match. “I loved every moment of it, especially coming on for a player like Lodeiro. That represented a lot to me.”
A native of Las Vegas, the young midfielder moved away from home to join Sounders Academy when he was just 13, a clear indicator of his ambition and desire to pursue his dreams of becoming a professional soccer player. In October 2018, Leyva’s strong showings at the youth level, as well as an excellent USL Championship debut against San Antonio FC, earned him his first pro contract.
Wednesday night’s match, where he played 30 minutes for the First Team against one of South America’s most storied clubs, was a validation of his decision to bet on himself.
“For a 15-year-old, I think he’s pretty physically gifted,” said Sounders FC Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “He can run a lot. His metrics in that category are very high. You saw some of the little nuances tonight of always demanding the ball. He likes to open that half-step, turns his body the right way, facing forward and able to play forward passes.
“The thing that really surprised me the most is that he’s actually organizing people around him. For a 15-year-old, that was impressive. When we included him in the first group, it didn’t matter if it was Lodeiro or Cristian [Roldan] or Raúl [Ruidíaz] or Jordan [Morris]. Anyone of them, he was organizing the guys in front of him. I felt that was a very, very telling character trait.”
Buzzing around the pitch and linking possession, Leyva showed he can hang at the MLS level. His technique, intelligent positioning and organizational skills all belied his age. He’s got a long way to go still, especially performing well on a consistent basis for the Defiance in Tacoma, but he’s impressed a number of First Team players throughout preseason.
“I’m super proud of him,” said goalkeeper Bryan Meredith, who started and played 90 minutes against Nacional. “He did well and has done great the whole preseason. He’s played in a few games for us now, and I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
Lodeiro echoed that sentiment.
“He’s a great player,” Lodeiro said. “We as more senior players have the responsibility of helping him out and helping him develop, so we’ll continue to do that. But it’s very nice to have a player like him, so young and so eager to learn, and we’re going to help him out with that.”
Professional soccer can be a ruthless grind at times. Players have to possess the humility, work ethic and desire to match their talent if they hope to cut it at the upper echelons of the game. In his post-match interviews, Leyva appeared cognizant of the fact that, while he has impressed, he needs to double his efforts if he hopes to play in MLS one day.
“It’s come fast at me,” Leyva said. “I’ve kept my feet on the ground and tried to be humble and keep working at every opportunity I get.”