WASHINGTON - So far, things are going smoothly in the Revolution's MLS Cup quest.
The players, plus their bags, were present and accounted for following a shuttle flight to Reagan National Airport late yesterday afternoon. As midfielder Steve Ralston prepared to board a bus for a Crystal City hotel, he reflected on the relative ease of preparations and travel.
"This is a better situation than two years ago," said Ralston, recalling the team's after-midnight arrival (minus baggage) in Dallas for the MLS Cup. "This time, the plane was early. Maybe that's a good sign."
The Revolution never quite settled in during the '05 MLS Cup and they felt like the visiting team last year in Frisco, Texas, Houston Dynamo followers filling nearly half the seats at Pizza Hut Park. When the Revolution take on the Dynamo in the MLS Cup Sunday, they plan to treat it like a home game.
"We've been here before," Ralston said. "Everyone is not so amped up and excited. We have 10 days between games and it's hard to stay completely focused for that long, so we broke it up with some fun in practice and a day off. Now we are concentrating and getting ready for the game."
Not only are the Revolution not having to deal with jet lag, they have few injury concerns.
"In all the years I've been here, this is the best the team has been health- and injury-wise," Ralston said. "At this time of year, we've had guys banged up and battered and bruised."
Last year, Ralston was among the questionable, missing the conference championship game and two weeks of training, then returning for the MLS Cup. After Ralston played 120 minutes, Revolution coach Steve Nicol did not consider him to be in shape to attempt a penalty kick, the Dynamo winning the shootout.
Though several Revolution players were clearly below par, they set the pace against Houston in last year's game, the Dynamo adjusting by switching to a 3-5-2 alignment in the second half.
"We thought it was going to happen last year," Ralston said. "But it can be a cruel game sometimes.
"We plan to put them on their heels again, if we can. The first part of the game, everyone will be pumped up and it will be hectic, but then we have to settle down and play our game. Houston has a great team and they have been playing so well lately. There is no way we can be overconfident and [Nicol] wouldn't let us be, anyway. We haven't won anything, yet, so there is no reason to be overconfident."
Ralston moved into a playmaking role, which has reinvigorated his career and changed the look of the Revolution midfield.
"It has taken time to get used to playing in midfield," Ralston said. "It's hard to break habits after playing 12 years in one position. But it makes the job a lot easier having Shalrie Joseph and Jeff Larentowicz behind me. Shalrie is always telling to me to go forward."
Ralston did just that in taking a long through ball from Joseph and setting up Taylor Twellman for the only goal of the playoff series against New York. Ralston then won a corner kick that started a sequence leading to the only goal of the game against Chicago, a Twellman bicycle kick, in the conference final.
Ralston, 33, has played more games (369) than anyone else in MLS. And, when the Revolution selected another right winger, Wells Thompson, in the first round of the MLS draft, it might have been a sign they were preparing for Ralston to move on.
"I had no idea what it meant," Ralston said. "I was ready to play wherever they wanted me to play. We also have Andy Dorman, who can play on the right, and it's nice to have two and three guys at positions, so we don't miss a beat if someone is out. We have that depth, guys who can play a lot of different positions."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.