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SSFC Spotlight: Danny Leyva takes step forward with Seattle Sounders

The midfielder established himself in the second half of the season.

San Jose Earthquakes v Seattle Sounders FC Photo by Lyndsay Radnedge/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Despite the 2022 World Cup being a mere few weeks away, it’s never too early to look ahead to the next cycle. Many things can change over the upcoming four years, as players experience rises and falls in their standing within the program. After a strong end to the Major League Soccer season, Danny Leyva could be a name to watch for the future. The 19-year-old Seattle Sounders defensive midfielder has already overcome a serious injury and continually earned his spot in the startling lineup.

Born in Las Vegas, Nevada, Leyva played with the Barcelona USA Academy and joined the Seattle Sounders youth setup in 2017. “Very intelligent and mature beyond his years,” he quickly rose through the ranks, racking up 11 goals and 13 assists, winning the 2018 U.S. Soccer Development Academy national championship, and beginning to appear with the reserve team in September of 2018. Eschewing reported interest from Atlas in Liga MX, the club signed him to a USL contract, which included training with the senior squad.

A few months later, Leyva signed a homegrown deal with the MLS team and made the third-youngest debut in league history. In his first season, the 16-year-old played mainly with the reserves in the USL Championship, but his year included seven appearances in the senior squad. Sounder at Heart named him the Young Player of the Year and praised his “passing and off-the-ball movement,” looking like he belonged when competing against men.

“We see a lot of improvements,” then-assistant Gonzalo Pineda shared with the Seattle Times. “He seems to be very active as a center-mid. He’s always willing to get the ball in tougher areas, which is very important for us with our center-mids. He seems to have some good character in terms of personality. Playing with the first team is not a big deal for him… Playing a big game is not a big deal.”

Leyva began the next season in the senior picture after growing physically and developing his tactical knowledge. He earned playing time in the CONCACAF Champions League and started in the opener of the MLS schedule. However, the COVID-19 pandemic derailed his progress, which was further compounded by a fractured fifth metatarsal after “planting wrong” that kept him out for the remainder of the year, but the club’s veterans provided support and guidance.

In 2021, he was back in the fold, splitting time between the first team and reserves. He made 24 appearances in MLS and picked up a handful of starts, valuable experience after the previous year’s setbacks. cited him multiple times as being one of the top young performers, demonstrating his intelligence and ability to “put himself in the right positions to help in possession.”

This season was a massive step forward for the midfielder. After beginning the year as a rotational piece and dealing with a quad strain, Leyva assumed a key role in August following some injuries to teammates. He started nine of the final ten matches, although the Sounders failed to make the playoffs for the first time in club history. The front office opted to exercise his contract option for 2023, with the midfielder hoping to be more consistent and fight for a place in the crowded roster.

“I think I learned this year about overcoming difficulties,” he told the club’s official website. “With the injury early on, it’s tough being away from the team and not being able to be involved with the team. That taught me to be resilient and always keep fighting, no matter what. I was able to get the opportunities to prove myself and show what I’m about. I’m really happy there. But there’s always something to improve, especially individually.”

At the international level, Leyva is eligible to appear with the United States, Spain, and Mexico, thus far sticking with the former program. He featured in every match at the 2019 CONCACAF U-17 Championship and the ensuing U-17 World Cup. An occasional call-up for the U-20 team, the midfielder was included in the final camp of the year, a group of 16 talents that is training with domestic senior team players in advance of Qatar.

Leyva is a prototypical defensive midfielder with an “impeccable touch” while working on becoming a complete player, hoping to improve his speed and physicality in order to win more duels. He is an active and consistently-involved high-volume passer with a full-field range but also works hard on the other side of the game, ranking in the 95th percentile at his position in MLS with over eight recoveries per match. Teammates have cited his composure on the ball, as well as a tenacity that can bring a renewed energy. His long-term objective is to develop better shooting and become more of an attacking threat.

“Danny has a really nice touch and ball control and he is a very, very good passer,” writes Marcus Chairez for Chasing a Cup. “He can play both the six and the eight, though he needs an athletic partner in the midfield to be most effective. Danny can look like a liability at times defensively and while he may never be more than average physically, he can up his reading of the game so he is one step ahead of his opponents to make up for a lack of quickness.”

While left off of the roster for the 2022 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, Leyva should be considered in contention for a roster spot at the 2023 U-20 World Cup and 2024 Olympic Games. The teenager is at a crucial stage of his development, and next season could represent another significant step forward as Seattle reloads in an attempt to overcome a poor year. If he continues to earn minutes and rise through the ranks of the USMNT, future January camp invitations will be expected and deserved.