United seek second road win in San Jose
WASHINGTON -- Still in search of their second road victory in 2009, D.C. United are aiming for a three-point haul -- and a promising debut for their newest acquisition -- from this weekend's meeting with the struggling San Jose Earthquakes at Buck Shaw Stadium.Mediocre away form has become an unwelcome habit for United in recent seasons, but the capital club plays five of their next six league matches away from home and success on their travels will be vital if the Black-and-Red are to keep pace in the tightly contested Eastern Conference race."With how close the league is, even if we're on the road for five or six games in a row, we've got to figure how to get points," said left back Marc Burch on Thursday. "We're going to get our wins when we can and then we've got to make sure we at least get ties, because if you drop three points in the league right now, there's a good chance that you can fall out of a playoff spot."In that sense, Saturday's clash presents an intriguing challenge. The Quakes have not won in over a month and they sit at the foot of the Western Conference standings, while D.C. presently hold second place in the East. But trips to northern California have traditionally bedeviled United, who have not won in San Jose since 1998, so head coach Tom Soehn's charges are taking nothing for granted."They're kind of struggling with points and with wins, but I think they have a pretty solid team," said Burch. "They work hard, they've got some good attacking threats. In this league you can't take anybody lightly."New signing Danny Szetela hopes to make his United debut this weekend, having completed his international transfer paperwork on Thursday, and the U.S. youth international's eligibility offers a timely boost to a United midfield presently shorn of two mainstays in Clyde Simms (groin) and Santino Quaranta (U.S. national team duty).Though he's unlikely to start on Saturday given his lack of match action since the close of the European season, Szetela is eager to take the field for his new club. The New Jersey native hails from Red Bulls territory but expresses excitement at the opportunity to suit up for his hometown team's Atlantic Cup rivals after a testing, but enlightening, stint with Spanish Primera side Racing Santander."This is the place where I wanted to be when I came back, so I'm really happy here," he said on Thursday. "I like the way D.C. plays. Their soccer is exciting soccer. Growing up, I always wanted to play that -- I don't want to kick the ball and run after it. D.C. is a team that, as opposed to other teams in MLS, wants to keep the ball, play more like a European style or South American style of football. So I'm definitely excited to be here."Szetela has ample motivation to excel in his MLS homecoming. After a stint in the U.S. Soccer residency program in Bradenton, Fla., he joined the league at the tender age of 17 and showed intermittent flashes of promise during three years with the Columbus Crew before Racing lured him across the Atlantic in August 2007.But playing time proved elusive in Spain as injuries slowed his development and he was twice loaned out to Italian Serie B side Brescia for seasoning, even after a strong showing with the U.S. Olympic squad in Beijing last summer. Szetela says his up-and-down overseas experience taught him valuable lessons about his trade."It definitely helped me learn how to be a professional," he explained. "Going into MLS when I was 16, a lot of kids like myself are like 'we're 16, we're making money.' But it's not about the money, it's about being on the field and doing your job. Going to Europe and being with players who played in Serie A and La Liga is definitely something that helped me out."Beyond their own immediate search for midfield reinforcement, United's coaching staff believe they can help Szetela maximize his ample potential in the long term."We watched a lot of recent tape from Danny, and having talked to him, we felt like he was going to be someone that could fulfill a lot of needs," said Soehn. "But I still think he's got a big upside. He's changed a lot from when he came out of Bradenton. He's grown up a lot and I think Italy has helped that. He's matured a lot. I think that he's someone we can rely on."Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com.