Danny Szetela, a classic, cautionary tale, signs with Cosmos

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Danny Szetela is real a cautionary tale about young, U.S. up-and-comers in soccer … and how fans and the chattering class can conspire unintentionally to throw expectations wildly out of whack.

The news today is that Szetela has signed with the Cosmos. Good for him, because his career has been seriously on the skids for years.

The seriously hard times cracked Szetela in 2010 when a knee injury undercut his preseason at D.C. United. While the injury acted as accelerant on his spiral, make no mistake: the signs of a career in distress were abundant previously.

I remember the reports as Columbus signed the young midfielder in 2004 – and you would have thought by some of the glowing allegory that the guy was going to be Tab Ramos, Claudio Reyna and Landon Donovan all rolled into one.

Well, he never gained traction at Crew Stadium – perhaps because he never seemed to want to be there in the first place, preferring to play closer to home in New Jersey.

But he looked good in U.S. national team appearances at under-17 and under-20 levels, which prompted Spain’s Racing Santander to sign him up. Szetela never made a first-team appearance and was loaned after two years to Brescia in Italy’s Serie B.

From there, it was back to MLS, where a season with D.C. United provided no evidence that things were headed in the right direction. He made four appearances, playing 97 total minutes.

From Steven Goff’s Washington Post report on Szetela’s release in March of 2010: “Off-field issues hindered his progress and disappointed club officials, and although he appeared in four league matches and five CONCACAF Champions League games, he didn’t make a favorable impression in competition or in the clubhouse.”

It is a very mature teenager who can read about themselves and not believe it, who can stay focused when so many people want to latch on for the ride, who can shoulder the heavy weight of expectations. It’s nobody’s fault in particular, it’s just the way it is – it’s a cautionary tale.

Three Good Questions for: Cosmos CEO Seamus O’Brien

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For a brand in 30-year hibernation, the Cosmos name still resonates impressively.

The Cosmos once ruled domestic soccer, peerless in image, appeal and high finance, far ahead of its time and wildly out of balance with the game’s larger public regard.

The brand is up and running again, albeit at a measurably smaller scale.

When the new day Cosmos take the field later this year, the matches at Hofstra University will look nothing like the packed-house affairs of the 70s, when Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia and other global stars led the fabulous Cosmos into Giants Stadium.

The new Cosmos will play in the North American Soccer League, domestic professional soccer’s second tier. The club’s larger ambition is anything but second tier. Not long after the club announced plans for a 25,000-seat facility, we talked to Cosmos CEO Seamus O’Brien.

For building awareness of what the Cosmos are now about, what’s the most important thing the organization can do in your first season?

I’m a believer that you earn credibility and respect through your actions. We will build awareness by just doing what we said we were going to do, which is put a very credible, competitive team on the field, building a business off the field that builds credibility and respect within the industry as one that is professional and of a high quality standard. And obviously, being competitive in a business sense and then winning on the pitch.

I’m of the school that I’m not interested in making big, grandiose statements. I’ll let our action do the talking.”

It seems that managing the public’s expectations might be a challenge. Obviously you cannot be the Cosmos of old, so how do you approach that?

I am very conscious of the history of the club, and it is in some ways a burden because it does create expectations, with people dreaming of the past. But I have made it clear that history doesn’t build a future and it doesn’t build a business. You’ve got to build your own history. I hope that everything we do will be respectful of the history, conscious of the history, and I’m sure it will blend through our messaging and our branding of the club. But ultimately we’ve got to build a new history and build a position based on how we perform today. Because the nostalgia of the past will only last so long. This is a tough sports town. New York expects winners. If we don’t perform on and off the field, the history will count for nothing.”

What is your relationship with MLS, because sometimes it is difficult to say if you guys are more ally or adversary?

A lot is being made of this. For us it’s simple: we are starting again from the beginning. As we’ve said, 30 years ago is a long time. We are building a business that has a very strong foundation. If it takes us 10 years to get back to the heights where we were before, I will be delighted. One thing I’ve said, when we get there this time, we won’t be going away. So we don’t want to make any false starts, doing things too quickly. Nothing could be more foolish. The thought that we could step out in our first season at MLS level and be a winner on and off the field, would be absurd. So we made the decision that [the North American Soccer League] is the right place for us to start again.

So we haven’t ruled out MLS, but we haven’t ‘ruled it in,’ if that’s the word. We’re going to look at it. Right now, we had other priorities for our capital as to what we wanted to do in building the club, and that’s what we’re going to do. As for MLS and what they want to do, I can’t really speak to that.”

Cosmos name Alecko Eskandarian as assistant coach

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The new day Cosmos continue to build there club, personnel structure and the modern brand, today announcing that Alecko Eskandarian had joined the club as an assistant coach.

Eskandarian will serve under former New York MetroStars standout Giovanni Savarese, who was named manager of the North American Soccer League expansion side in late November.

Not only is Eskandarian generally a respected figure in national soccer circles, he has family history with the Cosmos, an organization once peerless in its rule over domestic soccer. As the New York Post put it this morning in its report on the hire: “The Cosmos have long been in Eskandarian’s DNA. His father Andranik Eskandarian was a defender for the original Cosmos from 1978 to 1984, and Alecko was a regular fixture at Cosmos practices as a kid.”

But he had more than history. Eskandarian played professionally for DC United, the LA Galaxy, Toronto FC, Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA. His best days came with D.C. United, where he won the 2004 MLS Cup while being named the game’s MVP.

That side, coached by Peter Nowak, also included a young Freddy Adu.

Concussion-related symptoms forced Eskandarian to retire in 2010 at age 28.

Just yesterday, the club signed longtime Real Salt Lake backup goalkeeper Kyle Reynish.

(FYI: We have a Three Good Questions feature with Cosmos CEO Seamus O’Brien coming Sunday at ProSoccerTalk.)

The New York Cosmos just got closer to joining MLS (perhaps)

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News broke Thursday afternoon that Nike was selling Umbro, which got me wondering if perhaps the New York Cosmos moved a little bit closer to joining Major League Soccer.

Hear me out:

1) Whatever you think about the Cosmos management (and there’s plenty to say), they are almost certainly the single biggest club soccer team brand in the United States and definitely the one with the most history and fame. MLS is interested in getting them into the league, and they want to join. The union makes sense for both sides, assuming the details could be overcome.

2) Problem: Those details. There are many problems, but one that no one ever talked about was that MLS is an adidas league, while the Cosmos are an Umbro brand, which, until today, was owned by Nike. CONFLICT.

Nike would not hand over the biggest brand in American soccer  to a rival apparel company, and you have to think MLS wouldn’t let the Cosmos play in Umbro gear. There might have been a workaround, but it would be a long, tedious, difficult negotiation between two massive global brands and one growing league. It’s tough to see anyone caving.

3) Now, however, Umbro is on its own. They no longer have the support of Nike’s bagillion (approx.) dollar budget. Reading between the lines, Umbro is not doing so hot. If there was ever a time to make some type of deal between adidas, MLS and Umbro regarding the Cosmos, it’s probably now or in the near future.

The Cosmos won’t be joining MLS tomorrow. But I think it’s fair to say the divestment by Nike made it at least a bit more possible.

Thoughts?