When 18-year-old Bryan Leyva and his family moved to the North Texas area 10 years ago from their native Chihuahua, Mexico, it was for family (Leyva has an uncle in Irving) and future. That future became just a little bit brighter on Thursday night when Leyva subbed into his first professional soccer game in the 77th minute of FC Dallas’ match with the LA Galaxy.
The significance of Leyva’s appearance, however, extends beyond the realization of a dream for a single player. That’s because last September, Leyva became the first player in FC Dallas history to earn a professional contract through the club’s youth development system – meaning that on Thursday night, he also became the first player from the FCD developmental system to take the pitch as a member of the 18-man roster.
For the 3,000-plus youth and juniors currently participating in the youth development system (many of them on hand for Leyva’s debut), they were watching one of their own – and realizing their dream might be closer than previously thought.
“There’s a lot of talented players here locally, and I think he can kind of serve as an example of a kid that grew up here, that comes through the system, that plays for the first team,” said Chris Hayden, director of coaching for FC Dallas Youth. “I think there are some players in our program that feel like they’re very close to that and they could be the next one.”
The significance isn’t lost on Leyva, who maintains a close relationship with Oscar Pareja, head coach of the FC Dallas Juniors squad, and many of the players.
“I had some good moments with them, and I really appreciate all of them being there to watch me,” Leyva said. “We always have this conversation with the Juniors that if they work hard and they really want to be here, that one day they can be.
“I think me going to the game is just an example that any of the Juniors could be here that work hard and put effort into what they do.”
The 5-foot-6 midfielder only recently rejoined the team after a stint with his native Mexico’s U-18 national team, who were in Spain for the prestigious Mediterranean International Cup. He also participated in last October’s FIFA U-17 World Cup in Nigeria and is expected to do the same for the U-20 World Cup in 2011.
Add his time with the FCD Juniors, who regularly match up with other big-name development teams, to his playing time abroad, and Leyva is no inexperienced teenager. Still, it’s a big step to go from signing a contract with a pro team to making the game day roster – not to mention actually taking the field.
“I was ready and prepared if I had my chance, but when I was warming up and heard my name called – you can’t really describe those moments,” Leyva said. “It’s a moment that’s going to stay with you all your life. I ran as fast as I could to put my jersey on and get ready. Those two minutes while I waited to go in the game seemed like two hours.”
Leyva came on for rookie defender Zach Loyd in the 77th minute with FC Dallas down by one – not exactly an ideal situation for your first professional appearance. Still, by all accounts he performed solidly for the final minutes of the match.
“We were down, and we wanted to get more people on the field and he’s very good at acceleration and penetration,” FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman said. “He gets a lot of touches on the ball. Of course he’s going to make some mistakes, but we had a lot of people on the field that were technically pretty sound. I thought he did very well.”
FC Dallas lost the game to the LA Galaxy 0-1, but for Leyva and the FC Dallas youth development system he was once part of, the game was a huge leap forward.
“This is really motivating for me because I’m already looking forward to my next practice,” Leyva said. “I can’t wait to get out there and keep giving the coach reasons to bring me out.”
His first MLS appearance is also motivating for the coaches who helped him get there, and who now have an example to show developmental players at all levels.
“It’s very important for us to not just have success at one age, but for us to have kids at all ages that are the example for what happens if you work hard, if you continue to have good habits, if you continue to do the right thing on and off the field – you’re going to get those opportunities,” Hayden said.
“Hopefully, the preparation we are giving them will prepare some of them to be just where Bryan was last week – entering a game in a big moment, trying to make a difference.”