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Sounder at Heart Young Player of the Year: Danny Leyva

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A 16-year-old who hardly ever looked like a boy among men.

Kayla Mehring / Sounder at Heart

Danny Leyva was the youngest player to ever sign for the Seattle Sounders, the youngest to ever play and if all was right in the world the youngest to score a goal. It’s no surprise he was the runaway winner for Sounder at Heart’s Young Player of the Year with a whopping 51 percent of the vote.

Leyva signed his first professional contract in 2018 with Tacoma Defiance after becoming the second-youngest player in USL history when he played against San Antonio FC earlier that year. In 2019 he took another step forward in his development as led the Sounders Academy to the Generation Adidas Cup Champions Division title with U-17 side; became a mainstay with Defiance; signed a first team contract; earned just over 400 MLS minutes, and even represented the U.S. with the U-17 youth national team at the U-17 World Cup.

While the promising teenager led the voting, Nouhou received 39% of the vote, and Handwalla Bwana managed a distant third place with 6%.

Leyva had a particularly busy year, bouncing between both the U-17 and U-19 Sounders Academy teams, the youth national team, the Sounders first team, and Tacoma Defiance, which gave the Homegrown Player a wide breadth of experiences, but caused some difficulty as he never really got the opportunity to settle into one team for any extended period of time. Amidst all the movement between various teams, Leyva made six MLS appearances, including four starts. In those games, Leyva consistently looked like he belonged on the field playing against and alongside seasoned veterans and legitimate stars.

In his time playing with the Sounders Leyva completed 87% of his passes, including almost 91% of passes between 5 and 25 yards in distance, and almost 82% of his passes longer than 25 yards. In those games he averaged more than 54.5 passes per 90 minutes, which puts him pretty close to the passing volume of Gustav Svensson and Cristian Roldan, who both averaged around 58 passes per 90. Their completion percentages were all pretty close as well, with Svensson and Leyva each averaging about 87% while Roldan’s 85% completion rate isn’t far behind.

While his passing, as well as his off-the-ball movement, are what most often stand out about Leyva, his defensive ability shouldn’t go without mention. He averaged 1.3 tackles and 1.3 interceptions per 90 minutes — again, let’s just set aside the sample size and remember that Leyva is a 16-year-old playing against much bigger, stronger adults — which puts him between Roldan and Svensson on tackles with Roldan averaging just over 1 tackle per 90 and Svensson averaging almost 1.6. Svensson and Leyva’s interception numbers are almost identical, and both average almost half a tackle more per game than Roldan. Especially considering that Leyva’s a teenager still growing into his body, it’s worth noting how well he was able to hang physically when he played in MLS.

A player’s first full professional season is inevitably going to be a memorable one, and Leyva’s included plenty of highlights as he went to a youth World Cup, notched his first professional goal, earned his first MLS start, and got plenty of practice winning trophies. None of those moments were likely to carry the same sort of individual glory, however, as his goal that wasn’t against the Vancouver Whitecaps in his first MLS start. While the goal may have been called back by the cowards on the officiating crew after a review for a foul earlier in the play, it will always count in our hearts.

For the sake of Leyva’s development, hopefully he will be able to improve upon his 2019 total of 1,069 minutes with Tacoma Defiance in 2020. While he’s likely to spend an increased portion of his time playing in the USL Championship, we’re still going to see him in MLS on occasion, and when that happens you can count on seeing a player mature beyond his years who finds ways to impact games with his work-rate and remarkable soccer mind.