The assertiveness is still there. A foot injury couldn’t take the admirable trait from Danny Leyva even though it did delay his goals with the Sounders FC.
Instead of entering the 2021 season as a certified challenger for starting minutes, Leyva still has to prove his rookie MLS season wasn’t a fluke. His push for minutes has created a welcomed training-camp battle among the midfielders.
“I have high hopes for Danny,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “We’ll bring him along in preseason and see how he does. Try him out in some exhibition games … and then the rest is up to him. It’s always about the players, they’re the ones that put themselves on the field.”
Leyva became the youngest player signed by the Sounders when he inked a deal at age 15 in April 2019. Four months later, the Homegrown Player had made three starts and blended well with the veterans on the roster.
Schmetzer didn’t select Leyva for the club’s playoff run and eventual MLS Cup win, but Leyva was expected to take on a bigger role in 2020. And he did, making an appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League match against C.D. Olimpia in Honduras and starting in the MLS season-opener against the Chicago Fire, which ended in a 2-1 Sounders win at Lumen Field.
But the pandemic hit in March, altering everything globally. MLS resumed competition after a four-month layoff with a tournament in Florida, Leyva playing 11 minutes as a substitute in a group-stage win against the Vancouver Whitecaps FC in July.
It would mark the end of Leyva’s 2020 season as he fractured his fifth metatarsal during a training session in Florida. Leyva returned to Seattle for surgery and to rehabilitate the injury.
“I planted wrong and heard the crack,” Leyva said of the injury that sidelined him for 2½-months. Although he was able to return to training last fall, he suffered another setback with a minor quad injury.
“It was a tough moment,” Leyva continued. “It was one of my first major injuries. When I was young, I (had an injury) but nothing like this. I learned a lot throughout the injury. I don’t think it was all a negative from being sidelined all that time.”
Leyva said Sounders forward Jordan Morris and midfielder Nico Lodeiro helped him the most through the process. Morris tore his right ACL in 2018 and returned to win the MLS Comeback Player of the Year award in 2019.
Lodeiro suffered a similar foot injury as Leyva in March 2018. The co-captain managed to return and finish the MLS schedule with a career-high 16 assists, starting all 27 of his appearances for the Sounders.
Morris and Lodeiro’s biggest advice was how to care for your body. Leyva took those tips back to his native Las Vegas, training during the offseason with his former Barcelona Las Vegas club coaches and father.
“It was a different offseason,” Leyva said. “I was focusing more on the preparations, physical side and take care of my body more. With the injuries, I had to have a specific activation and be more careful in how I prepare myself leading up to games and practices. I worked a lot on that aspect.”
Leyva moved out of his Sounders’ host family’s home and into an apartment of his own this year. Leyva, who turns 18 in May, is completing an Associate of Arts degree at Bellevue College and learning to cook his family’s favorite dishes like carne asada and chilaquiles.
“It’s a lot more responsibility, but I kind of like it,” Leyva said. “You’re more on your own and becoming more of an adult. It’s all part of it, taking that next step of becoming a professional and trying to have a bigger role on the team.”
The Sounders are completing their third week of training camp. Forward Fredy Montero is the latest to join the group after undergoing a mandatory quarantine and COVID-19 testing. The club’s all-time leading goal-scorer was re-signed earlier this month after nearly a decade away — playing for teams in his native Colombia, Portugal and most recently Vancouver.
Leyva is competing with veterans such as Kelyn Rowe and Jimmy Medranda along with Academy teammates Shandon Hopeau and Ethan Dobbelaere for minutes in the midfield. The Sounders play their first preseason match next week, a closed door faceoff with USL Championship side Tacoma Defiance at Starfire Sports in Tukwila.
“My goals and objectives this year are the same as last year,” Leyva said. “Win as a team, help the team in any way I can and personally to get more minutes and solidify maybe a starting position.”