“I’m really excited for this opportunity and for signing with Sounders,” said Leyva. “It’s a dream come true. All the hard work I’ve put in since I was little, and all the people that helped me along the way, I just want to give them a big ‘thank you’ as well.”
A cerebral, box-to-box midfielder, Leyva’s rise from promising Academy player to full-fledged MLS professional has been a bit of whirlwind.
Back on Oct. 16, 2018, the Las Vegas, Nev., native signed his first professional contract with the Tacoma Defiance. This deal came just two days after he trained with Brian Schmetzer and the Sounders FC First Team for the first time since joining the youth system.
Fast forward six months, and the kid from South Vegas has achieved the goal he set for himself when he left his hometown in 2017.
“He’s a good soccer player,” said Schmetzer. “I want to focus on [the fact] he’s a mature young man. He’s got the ability to play – we believe – at this level, and that’s why we signed him. Let’s take the age out of it.”
If you watch Leyva play, his talent is immediately evident, as his blend of soccer intelligence and technical skills have allowed him to thrive at the USL Championship level.
Beyond that, his willingness to soak up the knowledge and experience of grizzled veterans on the First Team will stand him in good stead as he attempts to break into MLS.
“He demands the ball in tough spots,” added Schmetzer. “He’s technically clean. His vision is good. The thing that I really like, the thing that really stood out to me, is that he wasn’t afraid to communicate with Nico [Lodeiro] and Cristian [Roldan]… He was actually engaged in the game with a bunch of senior players, with good verbal communication, which shows me that he thinks the game through.”
Sounders FC Sporting Director & Chris Henderson echoed that sentiment.
“[Assistant Coach] Gonzalo Pineda had worked with Cristian Roldan, and now he’s working with Danny on a daily basis,” he said. “The information he’s getting is really going to help him grow, tactically [and] technically. His ability to think ahead of the game is what really stood out for me. He sees plays ahead and he’s able to keep the ball and not lose the ball under pressure.”
Leyva’s rise through the youth ranks didn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s the product of years of meticulous work behind the scenes, setting up the infrastructure for a holistic Academy that can regularly produce players capable of contributing to the First Team.
Leyva’s Homegrown deal is just the latest indicator that the new system is working.
“I think it’s proof of concept,” said Sounders FC General Manager & President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey. “I think it’s proof that we mean what we say. It’s not just a bunch of empty words. We are signing kids and we want to promote them to the first team as quickly as possible.”
Now that he’s a Sounders FC player, the true work begins for Leyva, who is blazing a trail for future generations of Sounders Academy players.
Lagerwey added: “The next milestone for Danny is: when does he debut? And when does he then start his first game? These are things we want to continue to push for. We still have a couple of roster spots that are open, so there are opportunities for other players at Defiance right now. If they prove themselves, we will sign them this year – this window even – if that timing fits in terms of their development.”