The secondary transfer window for MLS closes Aug. 7 and the Sounders don’t appear fazed.
Team sources state possible signings are “in the works” but if nothing materializes, the club is fine. Why? Because of Danny Leyva.
“Absolutely,” said Garth Lagerwey, the club’s general manager and president of soccer.
In the four months since Leyva’s April signing, he has transitioned from the youngest acquisition in Sounders history to a proven MLS starter. The 16-year-old midfielder made his third start of the season in a road matchup against Houston last week and the club is 3-0 in matches where he’s part of the starting lineup.
“He’s shining,” said Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, who started alongside Leyva in Houston. “He’s not just sticking around to survive. He’s thriving, he’s doing everything in his power to get better and that confidence means a lot. His willingness to showcase himself at an early age is very difficult. I experienced that and it was very difficult for me to dribble at players or play forward and not be afraid to make a mistake. Danny is doing all of those things.”
At midfield, Leyva plays an integral position. But Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer doesn’t view him as only capable of playing there. His versatility, according to Lagerwey, creates more long-term possibilities for the club.
The club signed an emerging defender in Xavier Arreaga and dual threat Joevin Jones in May. Typically those types of moves would have been announced during the secondary transfer window. This summer, however, the only deal is the extension of left back Brad Smith’s loan from English Premier League club AFC Bournemouth.
Since Lagerwey joined the club in 2015, summer highlights have been the signings of Roman Torres (August 2015), Nico Lodeiro (July 2016), Kelvin Leerdam (July 2017), Victor Rodriguez (August 2017), and Raul Ruidiaz (June 2018).
The state of MLS also factors into the Sounders’ decision-making. The league’s collective-bargaining agreement expires at the end of the 2019 season and multiple reports mention drastic increases to the salary cap, which could open up better options for a designated player signing.
“We need to have a compelling reason to make a signing,” Lagerwey said. “With the CBA coming up next year, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what the salary cap will be. We’ve already spent the great majority of our money. More than we spent last year. … We have enough where we could still pull something off, but it clearly has to make sense.”
The Sounders (11-6-5) are second in the MLS Western Conference standings with 38 points. Seattle has held there through multiple injuries and, at one point, 10 player call-ups for international competitions.
Gaps in the lineups have allowed Leyva more opportunities to gain experience. But he’s also had to balance competing for the U-17 national team and the Sounders. Schmetzer said Leyva won’t honor a recent call-up because he’s needed with the first team.
Leyva joined the Sounders Academy from his native Barcelona Las Vegas club in 2017. He then signed a USL contract with the Tacoma Defiance and made appearances for the Sounders during the preseason that helped nab a guaranteed, four-year MLS contract where he’s paid about $90,000 this season.
“These past few months have been great,” Leyva said. “I’ve had the mentality since preseason that I’m going to push myself to get into the starting 11 and push my teammates to be the best that they can. I’ve kind of always believed that I can accomplish this because I work hard every day and focus.”
Leyva, whose family visited him in Seattle in July, said he receives support from everyone on the roster and coaching staff, whether it be through breaking down game film or in-game pointers. Roldan and Smith are among the ones who specifically mentor Leyva because they, too, were in the spotlight as young players. Roldan was 19 when signed by the Sounders while Smith was 14 when picked up by storied Liverpool in the English Premier League.
Roldan said the next step for Leyva is actually to start directing the senior players. It’s part of the duty of a midfielder and it would demonstrate Leyva embracing his status as a pro.
“There have been moments when I’ve been stressed out and down because I’m still young and know I won’t be starting every game,” Leyva said. “I have to be patient and know it takes time to keep improving (but) I’m definitely enjoying every moment.”