TACOMA – It was a disappointing result for the Seattle Sounders in their fourth-round U.S. Open Cup matchup with the Portland Timbers at Cheney Stadium on Wednesday, as a pair of goals from Brian Fernandez knocked Seattle out of the tournament with a 2-1 defeat.
But the match did give the Sounders a glimpse of the future in the person of 16-year-old midfielder Danny Leyva, who made his first start with the club’s senior team just one week after he made his MLS debut in the Sounders’ road match against the Montreal Impact on June 5.
Playing against a largely first-choice Timbers side that included Fernandez, as well as veteran stalwarts like Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco and Diego Chara, Leyva held his own beside Alex Roldan in Seattle’s defensive midfield.
“I think there’s a learning curve there,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said of Leyva’s performance after the match. “I think he needs to change gears a little bit more, but you saw [what] he brings, which was youth, enthusiasm, he wants the ball, he’s not afraid of the ball in some of those dangerous spots. So, I was impressed.”
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That’s been a theme for the Sounders since preseason training camp, when Leyva originally burst onto the scene. A staple of Seattle’s dominant U-17 academy team that won last year’s national title and this year’s Generation adidas Cup, Leyva parlayed his standout play at the youth level and with USL Championship affiliate Tacoma Defiance into a first-team contract, and Schmetzer has said he has no problem giving his young midfielder MLS minutes if he earns them.
Leyva’s playing time lately has partially been a result of Seattle’s decimated roster that is currently missing eight players on international duty, but the fact that he’s one of the players tasked with filling the void does speak to how highly the Sounders rate him.
“I think the kind of kid he is, he’s never going to get overwhelmed,” Sounders midfielder Harry Shipp said. “It’s hard to chase Valeri, Blanco and those guys in the middle and him and Alex [Roldan] did a good job controlling the game, being in the right spots defensively and offensively and not necessarily trying to do too much.
“I think a lot of young players will come in and press and try to do too much, but he’s someone who’s going to play simple. He knows what he’s good at and he’s going to stick to that.”
For his part, Leyva said he’s trying to use his recent run with the first team to soak up as much knowledge as he can as he looks to make a case for more MLS minutes.
Those might be hard to come by with the Sounders boasting a formidable duo at his position in Cristian Roldan and Gustav Svensson, as well as a quality backup in Jordy Delem, but in the last week, Leyva has shown that he’s not out of his depth on the MLS stage.
“It’s happening really quickly,” Leyva said. “But I feel like I’m learning a lot from every little step I take with the first team, especially now starting my first game, I just feel like I can take something every time I play at this level.
“They just overall tell me in my position, just keep the ball," he continued. "I’m in a position where I have to keep the ball really well and have the vision to play those passes, so they just want me to play my game."