Soccer notes

Ralston looking for reboot back in St. Louis

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / May 11, 2010

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Steve Ralston has not played a game since tearing his right anterior collateral ligament in a game against Seattle Sept. 27. When he did return, Ralston hoped it would be as a member of the Revolution. But, after failing to agree to a contract, Ralston returned home and is with AC St. Louis in the USSF D2 League.

Though Ralston never publicly criticized the Revolution, he was clearly disappointed with the team’s contract offer before this season. But Ralston has been able to place his situation in perspective as he rehabs in preparation for his return, possibly at Portland Saturday.

“Obviously, I would have liked to stay in Boston for another 10 years, but that’s not the way it works,’’ Ralston said. “I’m 35, coming off ACL surgery, there is a question mark there. I understand that and it’s a business, as well. I felt it was the right time for both sides — that’s kind of the way it work out. I’m happy here. I’m not going to bash the organization. I have a lot of great memories and I feel fortunate to have played there.

“My biggest regret is never winning the MLS Cup. We did great things — got to four finals, won the SuperLiga, the US Open Cup, four semifinals.’’

Ralston was intrigued by the possibility of returning to St. Louis to play. The team’s stadium in Fenton, Ill., is small, but it does have a grass field, and that is a factor for veteran players, especially returning from injury. In fact, the condition of the artificial turf in Portland could determine whether Ralston decides to perform against the Timbers this week, or wait until a May 22 home game against Tampa Bay, he said in a telephone interview yesterday.

It would be an ironic return for Ralston, since he started his MLS career in Tampa, only going to the Revolution after the Mutiny was contracted, along with the Miami Fusion, by the league after the 2001 season.

“I’d by lying if I said I didn’t miss parts of it,’’ Ralston said of being with the Revolution. “But I am enjoying it here, playing in front of these fans. I was born and raised here, my family and friends are here. For me, growing up, there were no outdoor pro teams so I supported the indoor teams here. And, now, we are trying to build that excitement with an outdoor team.’’

Ralston has been following the Revolution, who have only one player [Taylor Twellman] on the roster from the 2002 MLS Cup finalist team.

“With a Steve Nicol team, it’s never easy for the opponent,’’ Ralston said. “They are always going to work and fight, and they have some quality players. There has been turnover, but the young guys have stepped up. Without Shalrie Joseph it’s never going to be quite the same team — he’s instrumental in building the attack and on the defensive side, as well. They are missing Taylor, but the goals have come from a couple guys who have stepped up. There are a couple veterans who have been through it and are showing the younger guys the way. It’s soccer — guys move on and other guys step up, but they still have the core guys.’’

Ralston holds the all-time record for games played by a US professional, 378 in the regular season and 34 in playoffs.

“From the early MLS years to now, the level has definitely gone up,’’ Ralston said. “The main difference, if you look at the rosters, I was a young kid at 21 and, now, they’re a lot younger and they are making a difference.’’

Ralston also scored four times for the US, including the goal against Mexico that clinched a berth in the 2006 World Cup finals, though Ralston was not selected for the squad that traveled to Germany.

“I would say it’s every player’s dream to play in the World Cup,’’ Ralston said. “I came pretty close. I played in almost every qualifier and, unfortunately, I was left off the roster. But I didn’t start for my high school team. And I was able to play for the national team, and not just once, but played in important games and helped them qualify.’’

Growing too fast?
The demand for MLS teams is certainly being proven as the league expands — Montreal is next, bringing the total to 19 teams in 2012. But the additional teams could be reducing the talent level. The salary cap has not increased significantly since 2004, when the league had 10 teams.

“It’s going to take some time before all the teams kind of get to the strength of where all the teams in the league were three or four years ago,’’ Nicol said. “I mean, how many teams have joined in the last three years? That’s a big jump, a big dilution. Obviously, it gives more players a chance to play, but from where I sit, the teams are not as strong. The coaches I speak to are coming out with the same type of things — and that doesn’t help any, when you don’t have the opportunity to bring in more quality.’’

The MLS has approved more designated players — each team allowed two outside the salary cap. Nicol believes the team’s youth development system could provide talent, but is several years away.

“I don’t think it’s anything to do with the DP situation,’’ Nicol said. “It’s got to do with the ability to bring in players, and developing the players that are here already. If you have the combination, you’ll have a strong team.

“You can bring in more teams but you can’t quicken up the development around the country quite as easily. The fact that teams are joining in is fantastic, all the teams coming in are building stadiums and creating a fantastic league. There’s always positives and negatives, at the present time, the toughest one for the teams is the quality in the squads — but that will take time to build.’’

Votes for Caio
Brazil coach Dunga plans to announce the team’s roster for the World Cup today. The biggest questions are whether Dunga will choose two 19-year-olds from Santos FC — midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso and striker Neymar. But Botafogo followers had another suggestion, promoting the club’s striker, Caio Correa (who played at Nantucket High School). with the following chants during a 3-3 tie with Santos: “Caio is better than Neymar.’’

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