Danny Szetela: “I have a family. I have a son, I have a wife. I got to make sure that I can guarantee that they’re being taken care of. It’s not about myself anymore. I’m not single, and I can just go wherever I want to go.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

The Cosmos’ decision to take a hiatus at least for the NISA spring season might have another casualty.

Danny Szetela, the only player to perform in every Cosmos season since its 2013 reboot and one of the team’s most influential and popular players the past decade, is considering retiring.

The 33-year-old midfielder told FrontRowSoccer.com that that he must put his family first, especially since the Cosmos haven’t said if and when they will return to competitive soccer. On Friday, the club announced it was sitting out the spring season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The club, which calls Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. on Long Island home, hasn’t said when it would return as fans fear the hiatus could be for good or that owner Rocco B. Commisso will sell the team.

“Yes, I’m definitely considering it, because the past three or four seasons nothing was ever guaranteed anymore, with the Cosmos,” he said Saturday. “Obviously, I know there’s difficult times with the club, but nothing was guaranteed. I have a family. I have a son, I have a wife. I got to make sure that I can guarantee that they’re being taken care of. It’s not about myself anymore. I’m not single, and I can just go wherever I want to go.

“So, concerning what’s going on right now and the Cosmos not playing, I’ve got to look at all options and make sure that my family is being taken care of before my happiness. It is their happiness. I’ve got to make sure that I can provide for my family and see what the future holds for the club. I mean I hope the club comes back. I hope they it’s a hiatus, but I hope the club comes back because there’s a lot of fans. If I’m not going to be playing anymore, I’m a fan as well. I’d love to see the Cosmos back on the field and be able to take my son to a game and say ‘Hey, I used wear that jersey, I wore that patch that they love so much.’ ”

Szetela hasn’t made a final decision yet, but he certainly sounded like he was learning in that direction.

The Clifton, N.J. native has said several times in the past that when he did retire, it would be as a Cosmos because the team gave him an opportunity to play when Major League Soccer clubs didn’t. He also wanted to go out a champion, but the Cosmos fell short of that goal in recent years.

After injuring his knee twice, Szetela was forced to undergo several surgeries, beginning at the age of 23, when many players come into their own. His rebuilt knee included a meniscus from a cadaver.

Szetela said the team’s decision not to play was “obviously disappointing.”

“There was a time in my career when I was going through my injuries, there was no club in MLS that wanted to give me opportunity and the Cosmos did in 2013,” he said. “I was able to sign a contract with the Cosmos and then I was with them ever since. It’s kind of sad to see that the Cosmos are not going to be playing … We don’t know the future because we don’t know more than that. They just told the players need to move, go to another club, and then we’ll see what happens for the fall.”

NISA is split into the spring and fall seasons, though the 2020 campaign was shortened into one season and a tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Soccer has dominated Szetela’s life, especially since he entered the U.S. Soccer Under-17 residency program at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. when he was 14, two months after his father passed away.

“And I was not sure I wanted to do it,” he said. “From 14 years old, till now all I did was, soccer, soccer, soccer. I got married, When I got married, I didn’t give my wife, my full commitment, because I was still committed to soccer, the best I can be. I think now it’s time for me to just commit to the family, and soccer, give it a break for a year or so. I’ll watch it, and then move on from there.”

After winning three NASL titles in five years, the Cosmos and Szetela failed to grab the brass ring the past three seasons, even though the team was loaded with talent.

Szetela said the 2020 season was “frustrating.” Due to the pandemic the season was cut down to a precious few games, culminating in the NISA Fall Tournament in Detroit. In a stunning finish, the Cosmos failed to reach the semifinals of a competition for the first time in decades. In fact, their record over three competitions was an abysmal 1-3-6, scoring only 11 goals.

“It’s frustrating, because, obviously, as the Cosmos, you are expected to win,” he said. “We’re doing well. Then all of a sudden, we just dropped off again. The tournament that we had in Detroit, it was tough. I don’t understand, because we had the best talented squad, the best players in the whole entire tournament. But we just couldn’t score goals. It’s like there’s some kind of curse on us.

“That being said, that kind of pissed me off. I would be angry at players that were supposed to score goals. I would tell them before we sat down for dinner. ‘Guys, come on. What else do you need from the guys back because you get the opportunities, you guys aren’t scoring.’ ‘ Oh, it’s just unlucky. We tried to score.’ I understand that. At the end of the day, it falls on Carlos’ [Mendes, Cosmos head coach] hands, but it’s not on Carlos’ hands, it’s on the players. The players on the field. Carlos and Dom {Casciato, assistant coach] gave us everything that we needed to know during that time.

“These were amateur teams that we were playing in this tournament. Basically, for me, they were amateur teams. And we just we just couldn’t score goals. If you don’t score goals and we make mistakes because we let our head down. We’re dominating possession 70-30, and we lose possession the team goes on the counterattack and we don’t expect that. That’s our fault. it’s the fault of the players, not the coach or anybody else.”

When current Cosmos fans think of the team, Szetela many times comes to mind. He has been popular with the supporters, whether it is talking to them after matches or communicating via social media.

Since joining the Cosmos in 2013, Szetela has made 125 appearances for the club in four leagues or competitions. That included the North American Soccer League, in which the Cosmos and Szetela won three Soccer Bowls (2013, 2015, 2016) while reaching a fourth final, National Premier Soccer League (2018-19), NPSL Members Cup (2019) and National Independent Soccer Association (2020).

He captained the Cosmos the past three years.

Szetela realized that by joining the Cosmos probably would end any hopes of continuing an MLS career. He turned pro with Columbus Crew SC via a special lottery draft as a 17-year-old in 2004. He played there until 2007, signing with Racing Santander [Spain] and then going out on loan to Brescia (Italy). He returned to play with D.C. United in 2009 before injuring his knee. Szetela did not play professional for four years until he received an opportunity through then assistant coach Alecko Eskandarian.

“I tried to open doors,” he said. “I closed a lot of doors in MLS because of stuff that I’ve done not only for the club but for at the time it was the NASL and leagues that are not within MLS’ reach. I closed a lot of doors, but for me I can say that I’m happy what I did, because I still believe, and I always believed in that in this country we need an open system. If the system opens and we have promotional relegation, it’s going to take a little bit of time [because of] the size of our country. We’ll have by far the best league in the whole entire world, better than Spain, better than England, better than Italy.”