I mentioned the Szetela-to-United rumors in the omnibus WIWFC post yesterday, and today the deal is done. So what are we denizens of the dank blogosphere to think? Has United just upgraded its core of promising youngsters, or did we just import a cancer into what has been (reportedly) a united (no pun intended!) dressing room?
I'm cautiously optimistic. There. I said it. Hope I didn't spoil the suspense for you. Lets take a look at my reasoning, shall we?
* It checks a box. In the WIWFC (in July!) post, I identified our two primary needs in this transfer window as quality depth in the center of midfield and a starting left back. I also mentioned the need for left midfield depth as "nice to have." But wait, Szetela goes on the right, right? I'll get to that in a minute. Suffice it to say, Szetela plays primarily as a central mid (either holding or attacking), can slot in on the right flank, and even serve as an emergency right back in a pinch. That checks a lot more than one measly little box. (But you said left flank depth, FB!) Patience, grasshopper. We've seen both Quaranta and Pontius playing at left mid this year, haven't we? Doesn't Szetela's ability to cover the right mid position free either of those two to serve as left flank possibilities?
* So now let's address that quality issue. Say what you will about Szetela washing out in Spain and Italy (the latter seems more an issue of injuries and a coaching change, but we'll leave it as "washing out" for now) and his mere 34 appearances for the Crew in 3+ years (remember, he started as a 17 year old), but you also must consider his history with the youth national teams (key member of the '03 U-17 and '07 U-20 teams and squad player for the '05 U-20 and '08 Olympic teams) and the fact that he has 3 caps to his name. Sure, the ground is littered with youth prospects who never panned out, but he is still 22. Which reminds me...
* The heady scent of reclamation is in the air. Remember when we brought the Phoenix into camp last pre-season? Remember the questions that were swirling then? All this "spoiled kid," "egotistical brat," "couldn't hack it with the Gals and Bulls" talk? So the question now becomes, "can they repeat the trick?" Szetela has always struck me as a problem child too enamored of his own abilities. But perhaps a couple years struggling for time in Europe has brought him down a peg? Maybe he's looking at the turnaround Tino has made (in his life and his career) and his subsequent return to the national team? At the very least, we've got Tino as a good example for Szetela and a veteran leader who plays his position and brooks no fools, Benny Olsen, to take him under his wing and/or keep him in line.
* Diversity is our speciality. Let me hark back to that depth thing again. Szetela's obvious analog on the current roster is Olsen (fiery competitor, combative but clever with the ball, pops up with goals now and then, plays at central or right mid). But Olsen is limping along on bionic ankles and Jacobson (another Euro-washout) isn't really inspiring when Olsen can't go. Maybe Szetela can do better. He certainly has the pedigree, and we could have done worse. And let's face it, I don't think any left backs suitable to play in a back three (Pearce, perhaps, but he's as much a "washout" as Szetela) are going to pop up on the allocation board any time soon. We had an opportunity to sign a promising player in a position we lack depth at, and we took it. Besides, Szetela not only covers for Olsen, but also the loss of Barklage, as we can play him on the flank and at attacking mid as well. Not to mention that he can spell Simms at d-mid to boot...
So amid all of this optimism, is there room for a little doom-mongering? Absolutely!
* How big is the cap hit? He can't be on huge money, but I wouldn't expect him to be cheap either. And for my money (natch!) we need a starting left back more than midfield depth. Starting left backs don't come cheap. Not good ones anyway. We've got the senior (and international) roster spot available, but do we have room under the cap to add a player of reasonable quality? I'd expect that any signing would show us the back of Avery John, but aren't salaries guaranteed at this point?
* Malignant tumor? Szetela has a reputation as egotistical and a not so pleasant presence in the locker room. Here's hoping (and knocking on wood, tossing salt, et cetera ad nauseam) that his struggles in Europe have introduced a least a little trace of humility and professionalism. One of the things United players keep stressing this year is how positive the camaraderie within the club is. Once would think we have enough strong, veteran characters to keep one bad apple from ruining the bunch (all aboard the cliche express!), but there's always a chance...
* Injury woes? Szetela's time with both Colombus and Brescia/Santander saw him struggle with recurring injuries. Now maybe some of that is down to not training in a professional manner or being overconfident with his body (whilst with the Crew). Maybe he was feeling the strain of competing for a spot with Brescia and tried to get back on the field too early (he wouldn't be the first). Whatever the case, it is something that the fitness staff will have to monitor.
So there you have it. I'm not going to go out on a limb and proclaim this a tremendous, positive signing for United. I have some lingering concerns. But with the looming fixture congestion, doubts over our midfield depth (and health), and the possibility of a big payoff (a la Tino) with a young player coming good and finding his feet professionally, there are more possible positives than negatives. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but I'm going to consider one box checked on my transfer window wish-list.