FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Many fans of the New England Revolution made their way out to Gillette Stadium on Tuesday night hoping to see MLS legend Steve Ralston make one final professional appearance before stepping away from the game. Although that hope was derailed by an administrative issue which prevented Ralston from taking the field, the 8,173 fans in attendance were still given reason to cheer as the Revs earned a 1-0 win over Mexico’s Monarcas Morelia to clinch first place in Group B of SuperLiga 2010.
In a statement released on Monday evening, the Revolution revealed that Ralston was planning to announce his retirement from professional soccer after an illustrious 15-year career, but not until after making one final appearance against Morelia. However, it was discovered late on Tuesday afternoon that an administrative issue would prevent that from happening, and Ralston was not in the Revolution’s lineup. Instead, he was named honorary captain and was presented to the fans prior to the game.
“I had hoped to (play tonight), especially after doing all the rehab and wanting to get on the field and play in front of the crowd one more time,” Ralston said during the postgame press conference in which he officially announced his retirement. “I would have loved to have that opportunity. But things came up (today), unfortunately, that we didn’t know about, and just deemed that it couldn’t happen.”
Head coach Steve Nicol also expressed his disappointment that Ralston wasn’t able to wear the Revolution colors one last time.
"We wanted him to start the game. We wanted him to be the captain,” said Nicol. “So that was disappointing for us – extremely disappointing.”
Not only were the Revs without Ralston, but Nicol also opted to keep Shalrie Joseph and Sainey Nyassi on the sidelines to prevent them from possibly missing the semifinal because of yellow card accumulation. Both players had been cautioned in the opening group game against Pumas UNAM and would’ve been suspended for the semifinal round with another yellow card on Tuesday night. All-Star defender Kevin Alston was also unavailable, sitting out for precautionary reasons after experiencing tightness in his hamstring.
With many of the Revolution’s most influential players not taking part against Morelia, much of the onus fell on 26-year-old Serbian Marko Perovic and veteran goalkeeper Matt Reis. Both responded to the pressure admirably, as Perovic scored his third goal in the last four games and Reis made three saves to extend the Revolution’s shutout streak to 365 minutes in all competitions.
The result continued New England’s recent turnaround, which includes four straight victories in all competitions – all via shutout – after winning just once in 11 games from April to July. The run began with a 2-0 win over the league-leading LA Galaxy in a league match and now includes three consecutive 1-0 wins in SuperLiga.
“Before the Los Angeles game we got together as a team, sat down and talked about a lot of things,” said Reis. “We knew going forward we had to play solid defensively because we’re not scoring a lot of goals and it’s really important for us not to give up goals. I think, as a team, you can see that we’ve done that well and that we’ve played really good team defense.
“It all starts up with the forwards and it comes back down to myself,” he continued. “We’re all very committed to try and keep the chances at a minimum and the ones that do come are relatively easy.”
The Revs will learn their SuperLiga 2010 semifinal opponent on Wednesday night with the conclusion of Group A, with the possibilities being Mexican side Puebla or MLS rivals Chivas USA or the Houston Dynamo. No matter the opponent, the Revolution will host that semifinal during the first week of August. The Revs would also play host to the SuperLiga 2010 final, should they advance that far, by virtue of their top seed among MLS teams.
Before they play that SuperLiga semifinal, however, the Revs will briefly return to league action on Saturday, July 31, when they’ll visit the expansion Philadelphia Union for the first time at PPL Park. With four straight shutout wins in all competitions, the Revolution will hope it can translate its SuperLiga success into a regular-season run.
“We just want to carry the momentum we’ve built over these last four games now,” said Chris Tierney. “We’ve done things well and, best of all, we haven’t conceded a goal in four games. If we keep getting shutouts, we’re going to put points on the board and that’s what we’re looking to do.”