By Matt Schwab
Special to Mustang Soccer
Mustang coach Joe Owen is a soaring presence on the soccer sideline and the running trails of nearby Mount Diablo.
A dedicated ultramarathoner, Owen has seen the world as a pro soccer player in England, Brazil, Belgium, Greece, and Germany, but his heart belongs to Mustang Soccer in Danville. He enjoys seeing his multitalented young players continue to grow and prosper.
“I’m lucky to be in a facility that is second to none,” Owen says. “The kids here are tremendous. They keep you young. They really keep you connected to the game in a very enjoyable way, in a youthful way, and I love that.”
Likewise, Mustang Soccer loves having Owen on board. He guides the accomplished 2006 Academy boys’ team and was appointed as Boys Coaching Director two years ago. During one incredible run Owen’s Mustang girls’ team won nine State Cup championships out of 10 trips to the final.
“Great coach, great individual. Loves kids, and he works hard,” said Mustang Director of Coaching John Doyle of Owen. “He’s had tons of success with his teams.”
During a recent interview, Owen spoke of numerous topics, including how he runs in a “meditative” state on his treks up Mount Diablo and how his soccer future was shaped by positive experiences growing up in Tucson, Arizona. He played in national championship games twice at Yavapai College and then competed for the University of New Mexico. Then he boldly embarked on a 10-year pro career around the world, which included training stints while trying to break in.
His old coaches in Arizona are still going strong in the sport. “I keep in touch with them. Very important people in my life,” Owen says. “I had one bad coach in all of youth soccer. Everyone else really, truly believed in me. It kind of shaped me as a person and a player.”
As a player, Owen spent time at Sheffield United in England; Rio de Janeiro club Fluminense FC; Bellaire in Belgium; and had training opportunities in Greece and Germany.
“It was very eye opening for somebody like me just getting to see different parts of the world through that setting was just something I’ll never forget,” Owen recalled. “The challenges for an American player at that time was if you weren’t in the national team environment, which I wasn’t, getting a work visa in some of those countries was pretty impossible in those times. That was the biggest challenge when I was in England.”
He described playing in Europe as an “amazing experience,” back when the Premier League was forming as the top league in the pyramid in 1992.
“The Greece and Brazil opportunities were great training opportunities to prepare me to go into some other situations that I used,” he recalled. “I was offered a contract in Brazil, but I always wanted to be in Europe; my heart was set to be there, so I pursued it, just got after it. … I had some connections in England that helped me get the trials, but when I went to Belgium, I didn’t know anybody. I just heard that the work visa was a little easier there. When you want to pursue something that badly, you’ll go and do it.”
On his return to the United States, Owen was unable to get into an MLS combine despite his extensive playing experience, so he began playing for the Carolina Hurricane. It proved to be a great fit.
“The Hurricane was an extremely well-run organization that was built on a lot of guys that ended up playing in MLS. I played with them for a year and then ended up in the World Indoor Soccer League for about a year and some USL teams. I never cracked into the MLS, but I don’t regret any of the opportunities I got as a player.”
Told that running up and down Mount Diablo seemed kind of crazy, Owen laughed: “It’s pretty fun. About seven years ago I started competing in ultramarathons. I just did one last Sunday, I did a 31-mile race out in the Oakland hills and I’m doing a 100-mile race in (Northern) Arizona next month.”
He runs up M Diablo trails about once or twice a week. So how does he convince himself to keep going on long runs in varied conditions?
“Sort of almost like meditative,” he shared. “I don’t know when the last time was that I ran with any music. I don’t run with headphones or any of that. I like to just go out and enjoy kind of nature and think. You get a lot of thinking done when you’re out for three, four hours at a time. Mt. Diablo is kind of my second home. … It’s been a fun thing to do. It’s kind of my release from coaching and doing other things.”
Owen formerly worked with older Mustang players and prepared them for college play, but about five years ago he switched to coaching 11-and-12-year-olds, before later taking over the U14 team. The change to the younger age groups seemed perfectly timed.
“Man, what a joy that was,” Owen says, “because you’ve got a bunch of kids that show up, they’re vibrant, they want to learn, they’re impressionable when you teach them the game, and the last five, six years I’ve spent with that age group I’ve just really, really enjoyed coaching again.”
One of his former players, Celeste Boureille, who also played on the Cal women's team, competes as a midfielder for the Brisbane Roar in the W-League and Portland Thorns of the NWSL.
Owen enjoys seeing his former players succeed in life and stays in touch with them and their families.
“At the end of the day there’s no greater reward than when you have a player that you’ve coached and it’s 5, 6, 7 years later, and they come up and they see you with a big smile. The families stay in touch; they say hello. It’s just a great community.”