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Meet the Tacoma Defiance’s unflappable Danny Leyva, who’s all of 15 years old

15-year-old Tacoma Defiance soccer phenom Danny Levya

Young midfielder got a shot at the big leagues when he was called up as a substitute for the Seattle Sounders FC preseason game.
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Young midfielder got a shot at the big leagues when he was called up as a substitute for the Seattle Sounders FC preseason game.

Typical 15-year-old pressures: Keeping your grades up and filling in those holes in the social calendar.

Danny Leyva has those and then some.

On Feb. 20, the Seattle Sounders put the 15-year-old midfielder on the spot. In the 67th minute of the team’s international friendly with Uruguay’s Club Nacional, Leyva was summoned by coach Brian Schmetzer to replace Sounders captain Nico Lodeiro.

Much like other tests Leyva has faced since joining the Sounders academy as a 13-year-old, he passed this test at CenturyLink Field with flying colors, exhibiting a calmness and skill of a professional soccer player, let alone one who is a teenager.

“Danny Leyva is someone we continue to push,” Sounders Academy technical director Marc Nicholls said. “Wherever we put him and he is unfazed. We kind of threw him into the deep end a little bit.”

While the Sounders could ultimately be in his future, Leyva’s present is with the Tacoma Defiance, the Sounders’ USL affiliate. Leyva and the newly-branded Defiance kick off their 2019 season against Rio Grande Valley at 7 p.m. Friday night at Cheney Stadium.

Besides a new name, the Defiance also have a new coach. Chris Little was named to the position on Jan. 23 when last year’s coach, John Hutchinson, decided to return to his native Australia.

Little, who coached the Sounders’ U-17 team, has seen Leyva make great strides. And handle it all with ease.

“When he came to the club he was doing well so we immediately took him out of his comfort zone so he’s a 14-year old playing with the under-17’s,” Little said.

“It didn’t faze him so we’re like, ‘OK let’s see what he can do without coming of the bench, if he can start.’ It didn’t faze him. ‘How can we put him in a position where there’s a leadership role like a No. 10 and where he has to create and has to be accountable?’

“It didn’t faze him.”

Leyva actually played in one match with Sounders 2 last season in San Antonio. He played all 90 minutes in the 3-1 loss to San Antonio to become the youngest Sounders player to start at that level.

Nicholl described San Antonio as one of the USL’s more veteran teams. And Leyva played just as he expected.

“He was unfazed,” Nicholls said. “He was calm, he had a very good game. We said, ‘We have something here.’ ”

How does someone so young — Leyva turns 16 on May 6 — become so unflappable?

“It comes from my family,” said Leyva, who is from Las Vegas. “Ever since I was little they’ve taught me the values of being calm and how they’ve raised and educated me. I’ve grown up around many good people.”

According to the Seattle Times, Leyva’s father moved from Mexico to this country 19 years ago. He began coaching Leyva as a 3-year-old and quickly noticed that he had potential far beyond his years.

Leyva’s father, according to the Times, said Leyva is taking night courses and is working toward this high school diploma all the while training with the Defiance.

And outside of school and soccer, Leyva says he also watches a lot of soccer.

“My favorite team is Barca (FC Barcelona). I watch them every game,” Leyva said. “ Ever since I was little me and my dad and we would watch all the games and everything. (Andres) Iniesta used to be one of them but now it’s (Sergio) Busquets. He’s one of my favorites and how he moves with the ball, how he controls the team. That’s what I like to see.”

The Defiance — and Sounders — would be more than happy if that’s the type of player Leyva becomes. But for now, Little wants to continue to get Leyva ready for the next level.

“Putting him in situations to see who’s comfortable and who is really nervous,” Little said about his plan for Leyva. “Looking at specific players and specific people to see who works well together. How the relationships work.”

And for the Sounders? Schmetzer on Thursday said he’s not opposed to playing Leyva during the 2019 season.

“I’m not going to rule a kid out,” Schmetzer said. “He’s made dramatic strides already in the month that we’ve had him and hopefully he plays well for the Defiance. A big match, a big test not for just him but the whole group on Friday. We’re excited for them.”

Upon learning what Schmetzer said about him, Leyva couldn’t help but smile but then quickly became serious and calm. Two traits the Sounders brass undoubtedly admire.

“It’s pleasing at first,” Leyva said. “I’m excited for any opportunity he can give me, I’ll be ready. It just means that I’m doing good work and I’ll have to keep doing that.”

Hello, I’m Andrew Hammond, and I am new to the Pacific Northwest area. I’ve been a journalist for 13 years, mainly covering sports in the state of Kansas, where I am from. I’m excited to be a part of the Pacific Northwest sports scene. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @ahammTNT
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