TUKWILA, Wash. — In their first practice session after the Arizona swing the Seattle Sounders MLS players were on field 11 with Saad Abdul-Salaam and just one Tacoma Defiance player — Danny Leyva, also the youngest player under contract in the organization. Leyva played the eighth most minutes in preseason to this point and was the only player to go 90 in any match.
As the rest of Tacoma Defiance split back off from the Sounders, Leyva remained. It could be the sign of more to come for the tall, lanky 15-year-old.
“We really liked the kid,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer told the media. “If he can continue to do what he’s doing and continue to improve … last year, we had a bunch of academy kids (in Tucson) and they went really like this (upward hand motion) and then they tailed off a little bit.
“We’re cognizant of that — there were a lot of them there this year as well — hopefully they’ve learned a little bit, we’ll watch them when they play with the Defiance and train with the Defiance and if any of them are up to the task we’ll sign them.”
“It felt really good,” he told Sounder at Heart. “It was a great experience playing the full 90 and all those minutes against those experienced players, you learn a lot. It was a tough game sometimes, but it was good to learn.”
Mostly used as a defensive midfielder he went up against some of the best in the game. It was a Timber who challenged him the most: “Valeri, with how smart he was trying to find the ball in the spaces underneath and the experience getting on the ball against the Timbers.”
Speed of play was a key lesson, but not the only lesson from a few weeks being integrated with the Sounders.
“Being with the Sounders first team and other teams’ first teams as well I learned that the speed of play is much faster, and you have to adjust to that. It gets a lot more rough,” he said. “Off the field as well, you have to be more disciplined.”
These experiences are ones that he can take back to Tacoma Defiance, if he doesn’t take even bigger steps in the last week-and-a-half of preseason. With Defiance he has big ambitions from the deep role.
“I really want to get assists, a lot of assists, and help the team win in particular and make the playoffs.”
Assists and goals are something that he got used to playing as a 10 since joining the Las Vegas native joined the Sounders Academy in 2017. He’s moved deeper in the field, which he appreciates because he gets to see more of the field and within the Sounders organization that means setting the tempo.
“I can distribute more and break the lines with just one pass,” he said.
On Tuesday, Leyva was the last of the Sounders practice participants to leave the field. After his interview with Sounder at Heart he went back out where training staff was gathering equipment used in the session.
While Schmetzer was answering questions, he noticed one other thing about his youngest pro player.
“He’s a kid with tremendous talent,” Schmetzer said. “He’s got a good head on his shoulders, he’s very humble. He’s out there still carrying practice goals off the field so that makes me smile a little bit. He’s a great kid with a great future.”
Leyva’s immediate future is most likely in Tacoma. He’s excited for the rebrand, “I really like it, because it’s something separate. It’s a new name, a new identity that we can inform ourselves with. I feel like it’s a really good opportunity for Tacoma.”