Danny Szetela’s career was on a promising track. Having represented the USA at the FIFA U-17 and U-20 World Cups in Finland and Canada respectively, he was making all the right moves.
At the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup, Szetela was a vibrant part of a squad which included Toronto FC's Michael Bradley, Sunderland's Jozy Altidore and LA Galaxy's Robbie Rogers. His success during the tournament caught the eye of European clubs in Spain and Italy and on 31 August 2007, he signed a contract with La Liga side Racing Santander.
After making the jump to Europe to play in Spain, eventually being loaned out to then-Italian Serie A side Brescia with glimpses of playing time, Szetela suffered a potentially career-ending knee injury. That set-back resulted in three surgeries strewn throughout nearly four years.
“It’s been difficult,” Szetela told FIFA.com. “It’s been a long three years. At times it was very difficult mentally. Soccer was what I was born to do. I love the game; I love being out on the field playing at the highest level.”
The New Jersey-born midfielder was faced with the challenge of being forcibly removed from the game he loved, trapped in training rooms and restricted to exercise bikes.
“There was a time I thought after the three knee surgeries my career could be done - never to play at a high level again,” he said. “You have to continue to work hard, no one’s giving you opportunities, and sometimes you think it’s done, but you still have to keep going, working hard.”
Szetela, recognising players have sustained similar or worse injuries and recovered, continued to push on. And it was from fellow New Jerseyan Giuseppe Rossi, currently the leading scorer in Italy’s Serie A, with whom Szetela found strength and encouragement. And Szetela's inspiration still rings true even despite Rossi's most recent injury to his right anterior cruciate ligament.
You have to continue to work hard, no one’s giving you opportunities, and sometimes you think it’s done, but you still have to keep going, working hard.
“I have congratulated him for coming back from his injury (two medial collateral ligament sprains) and he came back,” Szetela said. “And us both being Clifton boys, it must be something in the water. He stayed positive, I know at times it was difficult. For any player it’s difficult. He’s back; he’s scoring goals, representing Italy's national team. I couldn’t be any more proud of him.”
At the start of 2013 Szetela soon found a spot on Icon FC, an amateur club based in Montville, New Jersey. After a successful entrance in the US Open Cup, Icon made headlines nationwide, and the link between the team’s success and Szetela’s resurgence was apparent to New York Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese and assistant coach Alecko Eskandarian.
The Cosmos were in the midst of a full-fledge rebuilding project to compete in the North American Soccer League (NASL), a completely separate entity from USA's Major League Soccer, after a two-decade hiatus. Savarese and Eskandarian attended several Icon FC matches and became convinced of Szetela’s talent; glimpses of his form with the U-17, U-20 and Olympic teams of yore were apparent. Savarese and Eskandarian had found their man.
“I got back on the field, the Cosmos gave me an opportunity to come out and train with them and they offered me a contract. Now I’m here.”
Szetela went on to help the Cosmos win the 2013 NASL Soccer Bowl 1-0 in front of a sold-out Silverbacks Park, bringing the storied New York club their sixth NASL title. Walking off the field after celebrating with the traveling New York supporters, Szetela remained grounded, intent on playing at a level worthy of national team call-ups.
“My goals right now are to continue to develop as a player. I think I’ve been developing every day. With the Cosmos coaching staff, all of them are positive with not only myself but with all the players. Definitely at the beginning of the season maybe my confidence was not as high, but right now I feel my confidence is as high as it can be.”