Danny Szetela: “Trying to look for other opportunities, but right now in this country it’s very difficult.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)
By Michael Lewis
Over the years, Danny Szetela has become accustomed to a familiar routine. As training camp approached, he would train with fellow soccer players.
While running with some New Jersey friends ready to head to United Soccer League camps Tuesday, reality truly hit the Cosmos midfielder. He could well be at the end of a career and he is far from that.
“I’m like, man, how much I miss that, going into preseason,” Szetela said. “Even though we have to do a lot of running and everything, but that’s what players look forward to doing.
“I’m seeing all these players go and I’m driving home and I’m just thinking about it and it’s almost like gosh, I want to cry because thinking I might have to retire if there are no opportunities to come.”
That’s right retire — at the age of 30 — at the prime of the Pompton Plains, N.J. resident’s career.
“There’s not many,” he said.
Like many veteran North American Soccer League players, Szetela finds himself in a strange limbo. He has received offers from USL clubs, which has Division Two status. However, the proposed deals are nowhere near what he earned with the Cosmos. Major League Soccer clubs are more interested in younger players, Szetela said.
“Trying to look for other opportunities, but right now in this country it’s very difficult,” he said Wednesday. “With the USL, the offers are very poor. I think most teams … don’t give health insurance. Also, it’s difficult to move and take my wife with me and try to start a family when you’re going to go play for $3,000 and after taxes, car insurance and food and paying for your own health insurance, its basically you don’t have money left. Just a difficult situation.”
Szetela married his girlfriend Jessica last summer.
While Szetela’s salary with the Cosmos was not known, it probably was a good bet that it was in the six-figure range.
There were no bites from MLS teams.
“My agent tried to reach out to some clubs and they said they were looking for younger players,” Szetela said. “You just got to go with the decision they make and you got to look for other opportunities and hopefully one comes.”
Like many players and front office personnel, Szetela is anxiously waiting for a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that will determine the NASL’s future.
The league is seeking preliminary injunction against the U.S. Soccer Federation that rescinded its Division II status. The NASL wants to overturn a ruling by Judge Margo K. Brodie in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of New York in November so it could continue as a Division II league in 2018. If not, the NASL claims it will go out of business. It has been 40 days since the Dec. 15 hearing, but no decision has been announced.
“It’s a waiting game,” Szetela said. “Hopefully, everything works out and players can stop stressing. Obviously, I have been stressing since the hearing. We all thought it was going to come quick and it hasn’t. Now guys have got to make the right decision [of] what’s best for them and their families.”
In many respects, Szetela and many NASL veterans are stuck in soccer’s middle class. He needs to earn more money than USL clubs can play, but MLS teams are seeking younger legs that come with less expensive contracts.
“It’s sad to see, it really is,” he said. “There is so much potential with players that can make a difference, if they just are given that opportunity. The NASL was a league that was giving opportunities to players, older, younger, in-between. It was always competitive. The NASL gave opportunities to players of all ages to show themselves. You can play, you can play.”
Szetela showed that he could still play, signing with the Cosmos in 2013 are suffering what many observers thought was a career-ending knee injury. He performed with the club for five seasons, helping it to three NASL Championships and another spot in the final. While never an all-star, Szetela was one of the squad’s most dependable players, many times lining up as a defensive or holding midfielder. He made 79 starts over 105 matches, scoring six times and assisting on two goals.
Perhaps his most memorable goal was scoring against New York City FC in the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“It’s been great,” Szetela said of his Cosmos experience. “The time where I got my first opportunity from Gio [Savarese] and the rest of the coaching staff at the time. 2013 was a blessing in my life. I had the injury and I was out for a while. No other teams wanted to give me that opportunity. The Cosmos did and it’s been great ever since. I thought i would finish my career in New York a Cosmos and retire when I was 35-years-old. Unfortunately, things are difficult at the moment. Hopefully, things work out. I’m praying.”
The other option is to hang up his boots, at least professionally. Szetela felt he has too much gas left in the tank to call it a career.
His former Cosmos teammate, defender Ryan Richter, announced Tuesday he was retiring from pro soccer at the age of 28 to pursue a coaching career because he could not support his family on a USL salary. Szetela said he spoke with Richter before the announcement.
“Sometimes it’s better for a player instead of playing for $3,000 a month to retire and do something different,” he said. “Ryan is a great example. … He had this a good opportunity for coaching and was leaning towards that because it was better for him and his family.”
Szetela is two years older, but he’s not ready.
“I don’t want to retire,” he said. “The current situation obviously I’m trying to look for teams in Europe because I have a Polish passport. Even Europe, the time is running out until summer.”
Because of the winter transfer window. It closes Wednesday, Jan. 31.
“If the decision in the courts go against the NASL, it’s always a possibility, Szetela said. “Actually, the last few days I’ve been thinking about it if that’s what I have to do. I don’t want to do it. My body feels great. I know have a lot of years left. At the end of the day, I know I’ve got to do what’s right for my family and for me.”