On April 9th, 2019 Danny Leyva made history as he became the youngest player to ever sign with the Seattle Sounders organization at the age of 15. Since then, he’s continued to have a historic year culminating with an MLS Cup Championship but faced adversity every step of the way. We sat down with Danny to talk about his past, present and future.
NYSA: How did the Sounders identify you?
Danny Leyva: The Sounders first identified me with the ODP West regional team, this was a team that represented the West against the other regions in the U.S. A Sounders scout watched me play there, introduced himself and continued to watch me play for club, at Barcelona NV which is now at Heat FC, and ODP the following year. They came to Vegas and watched me play in State Cup. We sat down after and talked; it was then that they offered me a spot in their DA academy and to go up to Seattle.
NYSA: What does it mean to you being the youngest player to ever sign with the Sounders organization?
Danny Leyva: It’s an honor and feels amazing. I’ve had to sacrifice a lot to make it to this point and I’m not complacent with where I am or what I have, I want to play and keep moving up. The easy part is making it, the hard part is staying consistent and continuously improving. This upcoming year I want to play more and strive for greater goals of mine. It’s an absolute honor to be part of the Sounders organization and to represent all of Vegas and my family, so to simply be achieving my dreams is great and I don’t plan on stopping.
On June 29th, in a game against Cascadia rival, Vancouver Whitecaps, Danny went on to score what should’ve been his first MLS goal. He chipped the ball from 35 yards out over three Vancouver defenders and created an eruption as 40,000 fans celebrated the Sounders going up 1-0. Once the adrenaline rush was over, the entire stadium turned their attention to the center referee who, with the assistance of VAR, eventually made the decision to call back the goal.
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NYSA: You went on to score against Vancouver. After celebrating with your teammates and fans you found out they called the goal back for a foul that occurred before the ball got to you, how did that moment feel? What did you take away from that?
Danny Leyva: That was an unbelievable moment for myself and for the team. When I scored the goal, I was so ecstatic and had so much adrenaline that I just ran to the corner to celebrate with the fans. The moment is unexplainable, the whole stadium was singing my name, it was probably the best minute of my life as well as the worst. When I saw the referee checking with VAR I was extremely nervous. After the goal was called back the entire stadium was booing the referee, it was the loudest I've ever heard the stadium, truly unbelievable. I was mad, but I had to keep going and pushing along with my team to get the win which was the most important thing. I learned in that moment that sometimes things won’t go your way and what matters is how you react: putting your head down and staying in the past or deciding to move forward.
In early October Danny was named to the USA roster for the U-17 FIFA World Cup. The team would go on to crash out of the event, earning themselves only one point after group play.
NYSA: You went on to represent the U.S. at the U-17 World Cup, how did getting that phone call feel?
Danny Leyva: Getting that phone call felt like a dream come true. I had been working hard for two years to break into the U17 national team. That call felt as if all that hard work had paid off. I was also going to be able to represent my country in a World Cup, something that doesn’t happen often, and that was a beautiful moment for me and my family. I called them right after and I wanted to give them a big hug but couldn’t due to being in Seattle at the time. It was still an unbelievable moment for us all and for the Sounders because we had three players called up which was tied with the most from any club.
NYSA: At the U-17 World Cup the U.S. didn’t do so well, crashing out after group play. How did you feel about your individual performance? What were your biggest take-aways from that experience?
Danny Leyva: The U-17 World Cup wasn’t great for the U.S, we crashed out early and didn’t really find the rhythm we were looking for throughout the tournament. For me personally, I felt like I gave everything for the badge and country. We started off great scoring first, although we ended up losing the first game. I’ve always said that the first game is the most important and us losing it was a very big letdown. It was very difficult to recover and after that we never got into our game and style. From every failure and upset there are always takeaways. We played against the best of the best and sometimes losing is more valuable than winning. What I’ve learned is that at this level everyone is talented and good, but what separates the best from the others are the small details. This includes the preparation, recovery and truly playing as a team because these small details add up and show which team is truly all in.
NYSA: Coming back from the World Cup the Sounders were in great form and looking poised for the playoffs, how did you switch from the letdown of the World Cup to focusing on working towards MLS Cup?
Danny Leyva: It was tough to forget about the World Cup in such short time and switching towards working on MLS Cup. I had to stay positive and look at the opportunity that was right in front of me.
NYSA: How did it feel winning MLS Cup? Your entire season culminating in this epic way, what was that like?
Danny Leyva: Winning MLS Cup was an unbelievable experience. The entire season had been a roller coaster, from starting the season with the academy to ending it as an MLS Cup champion. To become a champion in my first year as a professional was honestly a dream. The season has had good and bad moments, but I kept pushing throughout the year and it culminated with a trophy at the end.
NYSA: What message do you want to send players currently playing under NYSA about making it to the next level?
Danny Leyva: Be dedicated and do the extra work. There are millions of kids around the world that want the same thing as you so what are you going to do differently than them to reach your dreams. Give it your everything and work your butt off in anything you do whether its academics or sports, always strive to do your best and improve each day more and more.
Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.