Major League Soccer has once again proved to be the destination of choice for one of the brightest young talents in U.S. soccer, after 17-year-old Danny Szetela signed a multi-year contract with the league, which beat some of the world's top clubs to obtain his services.
Szetela (pronounced Zeh-teh-la) will learn which team he will play for next week, when a weighted lottery is held to determine the fate of the U.S. youth international from Clifton, N.J. But regardless of which club he ends up with, it is is yet another case of a talented young U.S. player choosing to stay home to ply his trade rather than cross the Atlantic.
"I'm an American player and I was born here," said Szetela. "I had a choice to go to Europe or stay in MLS, and I chose to stay because I've been away from home already for two years (at the U.S. U-17 national team residency camp in Bradenton, Fla.). I thought the best way for me to develop as a player was to stay close to my family and play in MLS."
Szetela follows in the footsteps of such players as the MetroStars' Eddie Gaven, also 17, and D.C. United's 15-year-old phenomenon, Freddy Adu. Gaven, who is in his second season in MLS, was recently named a starter for the 2004 Sierra Mist MLS All-Star Game and he earned his first full international cap vs. Poland on July 11. Adu has drawn large crowds around the nation throughout the 2004 season.
"Seeing Eddie (Gaven) get his first cap with the men's team shows that any player can develop in MLS. I think it's up to the player and I'm going to try my best to develop. I always looked up to players like Landon (Donovan, San Jose Earthquakes), DaMarcus (Beasley, Chicago Fire) and Bobby (Convey, D.C. United) because I thought, 'These guys are young and they're doing what I want to do.'"
Which club will garner the youngster's services is to be determined by the weighted lottery which takes into account total standings points earned over a team's last 30 regular season matches, as well as any performance in the previous MLS Cup Playoffs. That provides a percentage of possibility for each team to win, the Dallas Burn with the highest at 26.2 percent, the San Jose Earthquakes with the least at just 0.6 percent.
Still, Szetela says he's just excited to play, no matter where he ends up.
"I'd like to be in New York but I'm not sure that will happen. My goal, with whichever team I go to, is to win a championship and hopefully make it to the men's (national) team."
Szetela is a big, strong player that has already accumulated a wealth of international experience at the youth level. He competed for the U.S. U-17 side at last summer's FIFA U-17 World Championship in Finland and was the second-youngest player on the roster behind only Adu. His presence in the center of the park helped the squad to an impressive fifth-place finish.
More recently, Szetela has been a regular for the U-20 side managed by Thomas Rongen. He has made 10 appearances in 2004 (third most of any player), including nine as a starter. Though he holds a Polish passport, Szetela intends to continue his international career with the United States.
"I developed in the U.S. and hopefully I'll get a chance to play for the men's (national) team because this is the country I want to play for," Szetela said.
MLS made a pair of major announcements in recent weeks, laying out plans to expand by two teams in 2005 and the construction of a stadium for the MetroStars in Szetela's home state. Szetela is impressed by the growth of the league and envisions further improvement in the years to come.
"I think it's just getting better and bigger. We're getting more fans to the stadiums and more stadiums for the teams. I think eventually we'll be the best country in the world."
Europe is not out of Szetela's long-term plans, however, as he is interested in competing with the best in the world at some point in the future.
"I always dreamed of playing in Europe, but we'll have to wait and see what happens with MLS. I'd like to play in England later. I always watched English soccer growing up."
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of MLS or its clubs.