Seattle’s 15-year-old Academy product had trained with his current team, Tacoma Defiance of the USL Championship, earlier in the day and was only included by coach Brian Schmetzer on the 18-man gameday roster because midfielder Jordy Delem was battling an illness.
After Delem exited the contest in the 67th minute, Schmetzer decided to throw Leyva to the wolves. The young midfielder responded by showing why he’s had Sounders camp buzzing all preseason – not only by holding his own against a formidable Nacional side, but putting in another standout shift surrounded by first-team regulars and seasoned professionals.
“For a 15-year-old I think he’s pretty physically gifted,” Schmetzer said after the match. “He can run a lot, his metrics in that category are very high. You saw some of the little nuances tonight of he’s always demanding the ball, he likes to open up that half-step, turn his body the right way facing forward, and is able to play forward passes.”
Leyva might not necessarily look like the flashiest of prospects at first glance.
He’s not a prolific attacker or volume goal-scorer, but rather a tempo-setting, string-pulling defensive midfielder, more focused on connecting passes and setting up teammates than he is with finding the scoresheet himself.
Ask Schmetzer or virtually any player on the Sounders first team about Leyva, however, and they’ll describe an almost prodigy-like feel and understanding for the game. It’s those natural instincts that led the Sounders to move him from his previous role as a No. 10 and drop him deeper, where that cerebral approach has been on display all preseason.
“The thing that really surprised me the most is – and you guys can watch for this when you watch him play again – is that he’s actually organizing people around him,” Schmetzer said. “And for a 15-year-old, that’s impressive. When we included him in the first group, it didn’t matter if it was [Nicolas] Lodeiro or Cristian [Roldan] or Raul [Ruidiaz] – any one of them, he was organizing guys around in front of him, which I feel is a very, very telling character trait.”
Added forward Jordan Morris: “He’s a really, really good player for 15. Composed and really good on the ball, he’s been doing this all preseason. You can see there’s something special there.”
Leyva doesn’t figure to see much, if any, action with the Sounders in MLS play this season barring extenuating circumstances.
But his preseason rise does speak to a larger theme the club has emphasized throughout camp: The young players will get a chance to prove themselves in Tacoma, which sports a roster where the average starter is just 18, but is also stacked with what Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey has called the most talent at its disposal since Seattle formed its USL affiliate in 2015.
Lagerwey has also said he expects the Defiance to compete for a USL Championship playoff spot this year, even with such a youth-laden roster – with the ultimate goal of gradually flooding the first-team roster with Homegrown talent.
“We’re going to watch them when they play with the Defiance,” Schmetzer said. “And if they’re up to the task, we’ll sign them.”