Michael Owen as a Designated Player? Major League Soccer tried to make it happen
Michael Owen announced Tuesday that he will retire at the end of the English Premier League season, which certainly makes soccer fans of a certain age feel old. For it seems like only yesterday Owen was soccer's Chosen One, anointed as such at the age of 18 after his stunning goal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup in France.
Owen's career, while very good, did not live up to the promise displayed in the summer of '98. Then again, not many could have lived up to such audacious hype. The early years were his glory years. He scored 118 goals in 216 games for Liverpool from 1996-2004, and was the winner of the Balon d'Or in 2001, the year of Liverpool's treble, when they won the UEFA Cup, the FA Cup and the League Cup. He made big money with moves to Real Madrid and Newcastle, but recurring injuries limited his production.
Aspects of Owen's career that probably weren't going to garner much attention in England today are a couple of brief flirtations with Major League Soccer. The first was in 2006, when MLS began its Designated Player initiative.
"We reached out to him though his representatives," recalled MLS vice president of player relations and competition Lino DiCuollo. "But as I remember it, they said Michael wasn't ready to make a move."
Again, in 2009 when Owen made the move from Newcastle to Manchester United, MLS touched base with Owen, figuring he would not get much playing time for Sir Alex Ferguson. At that time, Owen's people said their client was content with a limited role.
The most serious discussions with Owen came in 2011, when the Vancouver Whitecaps were preparing for their inaugural season and reached out to the English striker, to see if he would have interest in being the franchise's original Designated Player.
"We considered him to be a very exciting player with a lot of marquee value," said Greg Anderson, Vancouver's director of professional teams. "So we reached out to his agent to see if there might be an interest. Unfortunately, it never materialized."
Instead, Owen played out his days with Man. United, coming off the bench and occasionally starting in cup matches. All told with the Red Devils, in three seasons, Owen appeared in 31 games and scored five goals.
He signed with Stoke City this past September and has appeared in six games, scoring one goal. That one goal was the 150th EPL goal of Owen's career, making him only the 10th player to ever reach that total. So while he may not have lived up to Chosen One status, he was still one of the most prolific strikers in the history of England's top flight.
Now, all that is left is for Owen to play out the season with Stoke, where he can ask teammates Geoff Cameron and Brek Shea about MLS, and wonder what might've been.