Ralston retires from pro soccer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Arguably the best right-sided midfielder in Major League Soccer history, New England Revolution midfielder Steve Ralston is retiring from professional soccer after 15 seasons to pursue other professional opportunities.

Ralston, 36, retires as Major League Soccer’s leader in assists (135), appearances (378), starts (372) and minutes (33,143). He re-signed with the Revolution on June 8, and was one of two remaining “MLS Originals” – a player who began in MLS in 1996 and who are still active. Ralston was a seven-time MLS All-Star and three-time Best XI performer.

“Steve Ralston has been the definition of a professional in his time with us and the Revolution,” Investor/Operator Robert K. Kraft said. “You look to build teams around players like Steve: players who understand that they have a responsibility on the field, but also off of it. He is the best player ever in MLS at his position, and we’re fortunate that he spent eight years with us, helping us improve our team. We wish Steve nothing but the best as he moves on to the next step in his life.”

Ralston began his career with the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 1996 after playing collegiately at Florida International. In 2002, the Revolution selected Ralston with the sixth overall selection in the Allocation Draft, after the Mutiny and Miami Fusion folded operations. He played with the Revolution from 2002 through the 2009 season, after which he signed with his hometown AC St. Louis of the second division after suffering a season-ending knee injury last September. In June, Ralston re-signed with New England, making one appearance – a brief substitute appearance against Brazilian power Cruzeiro.

Ralston is one of three Revs players to start all four of the Revolution’s MLS Cup appearances (2002, 2005, 2006 and 2007). Ralston also won the 2007 U.S. Open Cup and the 2008 SuperLiga titles with the Revolution.

In addition to his league records, Ralston closes his playing career as the Revolution’s all-time leader in assists (73), and he’s second in appearances (201), starts (196) and minutes (17,643).

Ralston began his MLS career with the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 1996, when he was drafted in the second round (18th overall) in the 1996 MLS College Draft. He was voted the first-ever MLS rookie of the year after scoring seven goals and two assists in his first professional campaign.

A consistent performer for the Mutiny, Ralston recorded no fewer than five goals in each of his six seasons in Tampa Bay. He posted double-figure assists in three different seasons in Florida (1997, 1999, 2000), earning back-to-back Best XI honors in 1999 and 2000. In 1999, Ralston became the first-ever MLS player to play 10,000 minutes, a benchmark he would go on to re-set each season.

When Tampa Bay ceased operations in the spring of 2002, the Revolution selected Ralston with the sixth overall pick in the Allocation Draft.

Ralston’s arrival in New England corresponded with several other key additions and changes, and the team found itself among the league’s elite from then on. A 19-assist season in 2002 earned Ralston another Best XI honor, and his play helped propel the club to MLS Cup 2002, which was played at Gillette Stadium. It was the first of his four appearances in the championship match.

With the Revolution, Ralston transitioned his career from an outside midfielder, to central midfielder to withdrawn forward, with some brief spells at both left and right back. His ageless style of play and soccer IQ allowed him flexibility to play all over the field and maintain a very high level of play throughout his 15-year career. 

Giving credence to the saying that many improve with age, Ralston posted some of his best and most-balanced seasons as a professional in his final three full seasons – 2007-09 – during which he registered 25 goals and 33 assists in 97 regular-season matches. In 2007, Ralston scored four goals and led MLS with 14 assists, his highest season total since 2002. In 2008, Ralston scored a career-high eight goals and added seven assists before his campaign was cut short in October when he suffered a broken fibula during a road match at Kansas City. In 2009, Ralston tallied seven goals and seven assists in 20 matches. He suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on Sept. 26, 2009 against Seattle, in what turned out to be his final regular-season match in a Revolution uniform.

Ralston’s consistent on-field performance was noticed by the U.S. National Team. He made his National Team debut in 1997, earning four caps. He added a handful more caps in 1999 and 2000, but in 2003 under head coach Bruce Arena, Ralston became a regular at National Team camp.

Overall, Ralston recorded 36 caps, scored four goals and added six assists. Ralston made 15 appearances with the National Team in 2005 as the team went through the qualification process for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. He scored the game-winning goal in the 2-0 victory against Mexico on Sept. 3, 2005, in Columbus, Ohio, as the U.S. claimed a berth in the 2006 World Cup. In May 2006, he was named as an alternate to the U.S.’ 2006 World Cup squad after he suffered an adductor strain in April.

Ralston remained in the mix for the U.S. National Team after the 2006 World Cup, and was called in by new head coach Bob Bradley for the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Ralston made three appearances in the Gold Cup, and was a member of the 2005 and 2007 gold-medal winning U.S. squads.