Postcard from Europe: Five transfers that weren't

Oguchi Onyewu

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images/Illustration by MLSsoccer.com

AMSTERDAM — When it's your job to poke your head into the silly season every six months, you hear a lot of things. Often, you hear them too late to report about transfers that never happened.

Some of these cases become known to the fans, but they’re never confirmed, corrected or explained. Sometimes, a near-move remains a total secret. Either way, nobody really knows for sure everything that went on behind the curtain.

Just for fun, let's forever shed light on five passed instances when an American player came some degree of closeness to joining a name-brand European club.

Sean Franklin

The youngest of our five reveals centers around the LA Galaxy defender, who inked a new deal with the club just before his old one ran out this past December.

Behind the curtain, though, the reality is Franklin could have opted to roll the dice with Ligue 2 side Monaco. Obviously, their offer of a James Bond life was rejected, with the US international choosing to remain a one-club man in Los Angeles.

Dilly Duka

Back in 2010, the likes of Anderlecht were offering trials to the Columbus Crew rookie (at right) who was seldom-used at the time. Anyone who tried to find out such things heard about it.

What nobody knew at the time was that 12-time Swiss champs FC Zürich made a hard but stealth run at Duka's services.

"I could have joined them, but I felt it was better for me to stay with the Crew," the midfielder recently told MLSsoccer.com.

The decision has paid off for Duka, who started 16 of his 22 MLS games last season and looks a good bet to make the US Olympic squad this summer.

Oguchi Onyewu

Sporting CP back-line marshal Oguchi Onyewu is quite arguably the reigning American king of all-time overseas transfer gossip. The man has a list of legends, some of which sound like pure fantasy buzzing in your brain.

Leading the Gooch swarm are old twin rumors that Chelsea wanted to buy him and Real Madrid once made an actual offer. Let's cheat a little and give two-for-one here: Multiple sources in multiple European countries over a span of years have confirmed to MLSsoccer.com that both tales are actually true.

Long stories short, one transfer window before he left, José Mourinho was not allowed by Roman Abramovich to add Onyewu to his injury-hit Blues defense (despite the cost only being around £2 million). Around that same time, the Galácticos made a cheap offer mostly predicated on marketing their brand in America which tempted neither Gooch nor employers Standard Liège.

John O’Brien

One of the US soccer "urban legends" that has held the longest is the popular story that FC Barcelona once wanted the former Ajax handyman. It was reported all the relevant countries after the 2002 World Cup and into the following year.

The truth of all this is very simple, really. A local lawyer named Jordi Medina ran for president in the 2003 club elections. In the big campaign speech to Barcelona's voting members, he promised to buy O'Brien and then-Lazio policeman Jaap Stam, insisting they would superbly compliment the host of Dutch and Eredivisie-trained Barcelona players as they started trying to re-invent the 4-3-3.

Of course, Medina lost the election, as he did again in 2006 and 2010. Barcelona, meanwhile, managed to eventually figure out that project.

Eddie Pope

As any proper US soccer bubble dweller worth his salt knows, the then-D.C. United defender (at right) was widely linked with Serie A giants AC Milan around the time of the 1998 World Cup. The gossip was thick in those days and has remained so ever since. It's the Loch Ness Monster of transfer talk concerning Americans.

These rumors are actually correct. Pope did have interest from the Rossoneri, but never a tabled offer. Case closed.

However, he did nearly join another big European club the following year. After all this time, why not let the man himself set it straight for us?

"I had a number of very flattering offers, and a lot of teams were involved, including, at some level, AC Milan," Pope told MLSsoccer.com. "To be honest, the team that I was closest to going to was Borussia Dortmund. They had just won the European Championship, Júlio César had left, and they were interested in bringing me in. MLS agreed to a deal with them, and they offered me a very good amount of money."

So why did he reject the BvB move? 

"It was very flattering, but I chose not to do it," said Pope, now director of player relations for the MLS Players Union.  "From very early in my career, I have had a strong desire to build the sport of soccer in the US.

"I thought long and hard about it, discussed it with my family, and decided that my priority was here. I have heard people say since that perhaps I should have gone abroad in order to pursue a new challenge or to test how good I really was at that time, but I didn't see it that way."

And that forever settles that.