"Steve Ralston will not finish his career in MLS."
Yeah. It still sounds strange.
But I suppose if you're the league's all-time leader in games played, minutes, and assists, none of those benchmarks mean a thing. Even though you've warranted MVP consideration the past two seasons, your contract is up. And no, the league won't renew it for what you're asking.
Nevermind the fact that Rally, who will turn 36 this year, was the lone offensive catalyst on an anemic Revolution attack. Forget that the league's ironman has actually played some of the best soccer of his career over the last three seasons. And you can disregard that throughout his 14-year career, he exemplified what a professional should be: an unassuming team-first leader who'd rather dole out the applause than receive it.
And how did the league repay him for his services? They refused to re-sign him.
In what can only be described as a callous decision, MLS allowed its true poster boy - who, by the way, is not David Beckham - to finish his career in Division II, with A.C. St. Louis.
In some ways, I understand the general business aspect of it. Offering contract extensions to aging players isn't the ideal for any team in any league or sport. God knows there are enough athletes in their 30s or 40s that should've read the writing on the wall a long time ago.
However, Rally is not one of them. Not in MLS, and certainly not on a goal-starved club like the Revolution.
Consider that in 2008, at the age of 34, he topped the team in goals (8) despite missing nearly a third of the season due to injury. In 2009, he ranked second with seven, all while missing ten matches due to injuries.
Injuries are inevitable, especially for guys in their 30s. And there's no question Rally's been banged up a bit these past few seasons.
But the bottom line is this: he can still play. Play well, in fact. The stats don't lie. The praise showered upon him by his Revolution teammates isn't imagined. Steve Ralston was one of the best players in MLS last season, despite the injuries, despite his age, and despite the lack of experienced players surrounding him in New England.
And what did MLS do? They probably looked at those very things that should have kept him from having a great 2009 campaign. They looked at the recovery time for his healing ACL. And then they said, "No, Steve, we won't re-sign you for what you're asking."
Last year, Steve Ralston earned about $150,000. I suspect he wasn't asking for much more. He knew that he was approaching the final chapter of his career. He told me so on more than one occasion last year.
Whatever the exact figures or terms were, MLS ultimately said no. Knowing he deserved to be treated far better, Rally packed his bags and headed home - A.C. St. Louis.
Fortunately, Rally found a plethora of appreciation in NASL, even if it is Division 2. He was signed to a multi-year deal by a club who fully understood that Rally's playing days aren't over. They granted him an assistant coach’s position - one in which I believe Rally is perfectly suited for.
Maybe this is exactly what Rally wanted all along. He's far removed from the labor strife in MLS. The pressure for a speedy recovery has been lifted. He doesn't have to be Superman anymore.
Perhaps it's because of this that Rally has refrained from offering any negativity on the league's failure to re-sign him. Well, that and I can't quite imagine Rally badmouthing the league. He's always been classy.
It's just a damn shame the league couldn't have treated him in the same fashion.