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Sounders keeping teen sensations grounded as they prepare for U-17 World Cup

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Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez and Danny Leyva have both experienced plenty of success this season.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

TUKWILA, Wash. — No single image may have better encapsulated the seasons of teenagers Danny Leyva and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez than the one after Thursday’s training session.

Fresh off getting the news that they had been officially named among the 21 players who will represent the United States at the upcoming U-17 World Cup in Brazil, they were left to bring in goals off the Seattle Sounders training pitch.

As if to further drive home the point about where they are on the pecking order, a day later they were back training with the Tacoma Defiance ahead of Friday’s penultimate home game of the USL Championship regular season against Colorado Springs before joining the U-17s next week.

As talented as they are and as bright as their futures may be, they are still rookies with just nine combined MLS appearances among them. To their credit, they have remained grounded and very aware that there’s still much work to be done before they can expect anything like special treatment.

“It’s been good,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said of the youngsters’ development during the year. “I know they’re excited to go. I know they enjoy their time with the Defiance, but when they come out here I’ve been pleased with their effort, their attitude, they’re always willing to learn.”

Considering they’re about to play in an international tournament where many of the world’s biggest stars got their first exposure to the big stage, it’s worth remembering just how far these two have come in a relatively short period of time. Ocampo-Chavez signed his first professional contract as a 16-year-old in April of 2018, but spent the bulk of the year playing and training with the Sounders Academy. Similarly, Leyva turned pro last October as a 15-year-old and only made a single appearance with the Defiance.

This year started out with both joining the Sounders during a preseason trip to Southern California. Leyva was impressive enough to stick with the first team through most of preseason and eventually became the Sounders’ youngest-ever Homegrown Player in April. Meanwhile, Ocampo-Chavez started out with the Defiance.

Both players spent most of the spring bouncing around from the Defiance to the Sounders Academy and to the youth national team while getting to train with the first team only sporadically. Ocampo-Chavez eventually signed his first-team deal shortly before the start of World Cup qualifying, where both had breakout performances. Ocampo-Chavez scored four goals in the tournament and Leyva started 6 of 7 matches as the United States came up just short in the final against Mexico.

Leyva parlayed that tournament into a brief stint as a regular contributor with the Sounders where he made four starts and six appearances mostly while the team was dealing with international absences. Ocampo-Chavez didn’t see quite as much first-team time — he made three appearances and one start — but has started to find his scoring touch with the Defiance, bagging six goals in his past nine appearances.

All of this has come before either player is even old enough to vote or graduate high school.

The next step will be helping them navigate the path from promising youngsters to bonafide first-team contributors.

“A lot depends on the individual,” Schmetzer said, while also acknowledging his role of needing to give them opportunities. “Do they stay after, do they work, do they work in the training, do they become students of the game, do they watch for the enjoyment or do they study players?

“Hopefully, they can help us in the near future. That’s the goal of the whole movement to get the academy up and running to get them on the field. Some of that is up to me to have faith, but they have to earn the chance to play.”

Only when that happens will they no longer need to worry about moonlighting as equipment managers.