Ever since Danny Leyva became the youngest player ever to sign a first-team contract with the Seattle Sounders, a certain amount of expectation has followed him. Still just 19 and now playing his sixth professional season, Leyva’s career seems to be approaching a crossroads, though.
On the one hand, he is still considered a reasonably high-level prospect. Transfermarkt values him at about $2.5 million and he’s routinely getting called into United States U20 training camps.
On the other hand, however, his place in the Sounders' first-team is not entirely clear. Not only is he not an obvious starter, but fellow Sounders Academy products Josh Atencio and Obed Vargas are ahead of him on the depth chart. Leyva has only made three appearances off the bench on the first team this year and was getting most of his playing time with Tacoma Defiance of MLS Next Pro.
It’s that asymmetry that made loaning out Leyva such an attractive option. The problem was finding someplace where the Sounders could still retain control over his future while allowing him room to develop at a high level.
Just before the close of the MLS primary transfer window on Monday, the Sounders found a willing partner in the Colorado Rapids. The Rapids are an almost unique opportunity in that they have shown a willingness to use young players, but have enough of a need in central midfield that they were interested in Leyva despite having no purchase option. Making the deal even more attractive to the Sounders was an ability to recall Leyva during the summer transfer window if the loan isn’t working as expected or the Sounders suddenly have a need in central midfield. The Sounders will also receive as much as $92,000 in General Allocation Money, which will likely be prorated based on how long the loan lasts.
“They’re a little depleted right now and have some minutes to be consumed,” Sounders GM Craig Waibel told reporters about the Rapids on Tuesday. “These kinds of opportunities don’t present themselves that often where he might be able to get more minutes and we can bring him back a better player.”
None of that is to suggest Leyva’s playing time in Colorado is anything like a sure thing. Even after losing Jack Price for the season, the Rapids still have two reasonably solid starters in Bryan Acosta and Connor Ronan. Leyva will also be fighting for minutes alongside Cole Bassett, who has been dealing with an injury but will probably get the benefit of the doubt once healthy.
Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer also made sure to put in a good word with Rapids coach Robin Fraser.
“I told him he’s getting a very coachable kid, good in the locker room, all those things coaches love,” Schmetzer said. “He was appreciative of that phone call.”
It all added up to enough of an opportunity to intrigue Leyva, who signed off on the deal and sounded like he was ready for his next challenge in a post on Instagram.
As Leyva’s post seems to imply, there’s a decent chance this is the last we’ll see of Leyva in rave green. Even though the Sounders just signed Leyva to a five-year contract a couple of months ago, he’s still a 19-year-old who has already logged more than 5,000 professional minutes and no clear path to regular first-team minutes without a move. Assuming he can regularly get on the field, the Rapids or some other team are likely to make an offer that’s too good to pass up.
“If he’s playing and developing there will be an appetite on both sides to keep it going,” Waibel said. “Soccer players need to play soccer to get better at soccer. Games are what matter.”
What’s going on with Xavier Arreaga?
Perhaps more surprising than Leyva’s loan was that no move materialized for centerback Xavier Arreaga. Waibel confirmed that several teams had inquired about the Ecuador international, but nothing that was good enough for the Sounders to justify weakening their depth.
“He’s training excellent, he’s ready for his turn,” Waibel said about Arreaga. “You never know when that may come.”