Danny Leyva has been to two preseasons with the Seattle Sounders – and they couldn’t have been more different.
Last year, Leyva joined a group of a dozen other Sounders Academy and Tacoma Defiance prospects in Southern California during preseason. They integrated with the First Team, rooming with experienced veterans and learning the ropes of what it takes to be a professional.
Fast forward to 2019 and Leyva is helping newcomer Yeimar Gómez Andrade, who doesn’t speak any English, understand one of the drills at the team’s preseason camp in Mexico City. Despite still being the youngest guy in camp, he no longer timidly carries himself around the vets. He, too, is on an MLS contract, and at the age of 15 became the youngest player in club to play in a league match this past April.
“Obviously everything has happened really quickly,” said Leyva. “When I started, I didn’t think I would end the year as an MLS champion. And now entering this preseason I’ve gotten a lot of experience from starting a couple games and being champion, and being in that environment of always winning games.”
Danny Leyva (left) hoists the MLS Cup with fellow Homegrown Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez (right) | Jane Gershovich
When Leyva moved from Las Vegas to Seattle to join the Sounders Academy at the age of 14, the plan was to make it to the First Team eventually. As the pathway is intended, young prospects join the Sounders Academy youth circuit and are immediately taught the tactical principles of the team’s system. From there, USL Championship’s Tacoma Defiance serves as the gateway to the professional ranks for young talent.
The process is supposed to take several years, but Leyva made it happen at a ridiculous pace.
June 2017: Joins Sounders Academy
October 2018: Signs contract with Tacoma Defiance (then Sounders FC 2)
April 2019: Signs contract with Seattle Sounders FC
“I feel like last year’s preseason was much different than this one,” Leyva said. “Physically, I’ve grown a lot. Just developing more as a player on the tactical side – you have to be more responsible and treat it as a job now. The first year was about opening my eyes, this year is more competitive. I have to execute more. It’s been a different preseason, but I’m enjoying every minute of it.
A smooth midfielder with impeccable touch on the ball, it’s difficult to pinpoint Leyva’s trajectory. Whereas American players from 18-21 are considered prospects with promising talent, Leyva already has over 400 MLS minutes at the age of 16. In June, his jaw-dropping goal against Vancouver Whitecaps FC was controversially overturned. A couple months later, he represented the United States at the U-17 FIFA World Cup.
“Every time I go back home, I realize that I am living a dream being a pro soccer player,” Leyva said. “In 2019, I became an MLS Cup champion and my friends and family always talk about that when I go back home. It’s just a dream come true... It’s always been a dream to be a professional soccer player, especially with the Seattle Sounders.”
Leyva will graduate from high school in two years, but he hopes to consistently break into the club’s Starting XI before that. He continues to take online school courses at Starfire Sports each afternoon and he lives with a family as part of the club’s Homestay program.
Off the field, his life hasn’t changed too much from a year ago – despite being recognized in public a bit more each outing downtown – but his role continues to grow on the field.