Danny Szetela’s time in the nation’s capital didn’t go exactly as planned.
DC United waived Szetela in March of 2010. Steven Goff of the Washington Post reported that “off-field issues hindered his progress” and “he didn’t make a favorable impression in competition or in the clubhouse.” Rumors swirled, with media outlets reporting that Danny had got in to a fight with defender Mark Burch. These factors, in addition to his knee injury seemed to lead to his release. However, Danny seems to have a different view on at least one part of his time at DCU:
“I read one report that said I got in a fight with one of my teammates. That teammate was Mark Birch. I lived with Mark Birch, had a great relationship with Mark Birch, we never fought about anything. The media is the media, they’re going to make things good and make things bad. You can never believe everything you read. I actually laughed, me and Birch were joking about it when the story came out. People are going to write what they are going to write, and what they believe, and that’s it. That’s what’s going on. I think, watching all the stuff going on with the presidential election with Hillary and Trump is hilarious too, with the media. You don’t know who to believe anymore!”
This brings us to the injury. The infamous, infamous injury.
“I got the injury in DC, during preseason. The coaching staff changed, and we came in a week early before we were to leave for Florida. We trained on a turf field where it snowed the night before. They tried to shovel the snow off, but some parts of the turf were frozen underneath. That’s where I got stuck and tore my meniscus.”
As injuries go, a meniscus tear is no stubbed toe. It requires surgery. It requires time to heal. Danny did his due diligence, and attempted a return shortly after. However…
“I had surgery done in DC, then after a month they tried getting me back. Unfortunately, it was either too early or something else with the surgery happened. I’ll never know 100%, but it was difficult.”
“They released me from DC, that’s when I went to see another doctor, and he went in to the knee to see what he could do. He said there wasn’t. He recommended me to Dr. Scott Rodeo from the Hospital of Special Surgery, the doctor for the Giants and the Olympic Swimming Team.”
This time was tough for Danny as he searched for a way to heal his knee. He spent his time in his native Clifton, New Jersey around family. This was not without controversy though, with Szetela getting arrested with his brothers in a bar fight in March 2011. However, after all the struggle, he had a new opinion on his knee.
“I went to see him, and he said that the only thing we could do if I wanted to keep playing is to get a meniscus transplant, which is what we decided to do. ”
“This was about a year and a half after the first surgery, and then I had to wait nine months to get that surgery.”
Nine months. He had waited years to come back from his star-crossed time in Washington DC, but he had nine more months to wait. The reason for the delay is a morbid one, and one that, upon explanation, brought out Szetela’s religious beliefs.
“It was a cadaver.”
“They said initially that we could do it tomorrow, but the meniscus would come from another person so I might not have been able to play again. Unfortunately, for someone my age to pass away (God bless his soul), gave me the opportunity to get the surgery and play again. There was a 50-50 shot of the surgery being successful. I think I was the first soccer player at the time to ever get it done. Thank God I was able to get the surgery, and God bless his soul that I got the cadaver from.”
Szetela got the surgery and began his return to the game. With the help of a family friend, Danny went to semi-pro side Icon FC to begin his ascent back to professional soccer.
“Icon is a local team. I know a lot of guys. Greg Bajek the coach is a long-time family friend. His parents and mine grew up together in Clifton, New Jersey, where I was raised. I was training with them after I got the surgery, and then I started playing some matches. The team qualified for the Open Cup.”
Continuing to work hard and train, Danny and Icon prepared to make a trip across the bridge to face Brooklyn Italians in the famed US Open Cup. That’s when another family friend proved to be essential in his ascent to the pros.
“I’m really good friends with Alecko (Eskandarian), he and my brother grew up together playing against each other in high school. Alecko came to a couple games. Then Gio, Luke, and Alecko came to our game (we played at Aviator Field) against the Brooklyn Italians. After, they offered me to come in and train with the chance to sign a contract.”
For a guy who preaches to be family first, Danny sure seems to owe much of his comeback to his family.
Off to Hempstead went Szetela.
“I came in, was training and then after a month they offered me a contract to get back on the field. That was an opportunity I was grateful for. At the time I wasn’t worried about money or anything, the things players usually think about. For me, it was about getting back on the field and proving I could continue to be successful and grow.”
Danny Szetela was back.
With the Cosmos, Szetela has enjoyed enormous success to date. Two Soccer Bowl titles in three years, a pairing with Marcos Senna that was feared across the league, and successful Open Cup runs.However, if there was one moment that defined Danny’s time in green and white, it was his goal this year against NYCFC.
“The goal, about the 85th minute, everyone looked tired. Big field, good game, competitive game. I saw the ball go down the left side and I said I’m just going to make this run and score this goal so we don’t have to go to overtime. Moffat played the ball out wide to Orozco, and he played a great cross and I finished in.”
For a player that scored 10 career goals for club and country, it sure seemed to be a defining moment for the midfielder. After his father’s death, the career moves, the injury, he had HIS moment on the professional stage. No one could take it away from him.
The biggest moment of this year, however, came off the field for Szetela. On October 22nd, following the Cosmos 4-0 drubbing of Miami FC, Danny proposed to his girlfriend Jessica Modzelewski with the help of a tifo from the Five Points. When asked about what that moment meant to him and why he chose to do it after a game, Danny smiled.“My relationship with the fans has been great since I got here. It is important to have a good relationship with the fans, always. Something I always thought about: when I get engaged, I’d like to do it on the field after a game, she’ll never expect it. I talked to [Director of Operations] Sofia, Sofia talked to the Five Points, and they said they’ll make the banner. I’m thankful that I have a good relationship with them, they did that for me, and I appreciate it a lot. It was an exciting moment, and I’m lucky she said yes. If she said no, it would be a little embarrassing in front of everyone. That was a great time, and I’m looking forward to our future.”
How is one to look back at the career of Danny Szetela, and subsequently look at the future?
Coach Giovanni Savarese has his own thoughts:
“It is a successful story. It is a story that you can tell kids. There is so much in to it, it is so inspiring. For a moment, it looked like he was going to be the next amazing player coming from the United States. For a moment, it looked like he was retired. Then, he had a second life, took advantage of it… the way he goes about it, the karma that he has, the willingness to be able to work, his second opportunity in soccer he appreciated very much. He deserves everything that he gets.”
How does Danny look at himself? His initial miss on an opportunity in Europe? The injury?
“You know, I think about it sometimes, but I never regret anything. I always think about if I did go to Europe, but I didn’t. At the end of the day I’m happy with where I am. I’m happy with my life, went through some difficult times that made me stronger, with the injuries and some of field issues. You live and you learn. I never regret anything. I’m happy where I am, I’ve been really happy here with the Cosmos, we’ve had a lot of success.”
“I just need to continue to stay positive, never look back at anything. You have to try what’s going to make you happy. I read an interview with Tim Tebow the other day on ESPN where he was saying “You have to do what makes you happy, and if you don’t succeed you know that you tried. If you never try, you’re never going to succeed and be happy in your life. You don’t want to do something that’s not going to make you happy.”
“At the end of the day I’m happy with what I did, and hopefully I can continue my career here and play for another ten or twenty years.”
That, ultimately, is the view that should be undertaken when looking at the career of Danny Szetela. He is player, raised in the hype, molded by personal and professional struggle alike. However, he never gave up. He kept his family close, his faith closer. He knows that he could easily be coaching high school soccer in Clifton, seeing the promise of his career running by him everyday. But, he’s not. He is here, living out his dream, and loving every moment of it.
Not bad for a kid from Clifton.