[NASL]A brand-new soccer team will feature a very familiar face when it begins play this spring. AC St. Louis of the recently formed North American Soccer League has signed former U.S. midfielder Steve Ralston, the all-time MLS leader in games, minutes played, and assists. Ralston, who was born in nearby Oakville, Mo., declined to re-sign with New England after his contract expired in December and will serve as AC's assistant coach as well as its captain.
The 14-year MLS veteran played a league record 378 games for Tampa Bay and New England, scoring 76 goals and registering 135 assists. His departure leaves Jaime Moreno and Jesse Marsch as the only active players to participate in each league season, and deprives him of a chance to win an MLS Cup. He and the Revs played in the 2002, 2005, 2006, and 2007 championship games, and lost each one.
Ralston had seven goals and seven assists in 20 games for the Revs last season before a torn ACL he suffered Sept. 26 ended his season. He played eight seasons in New England after being claimed in the 2002 allocation draft held after MLS terminated the Tampa Bay and Miami franchises.
"I was going back and forth on this more than Brett Favre, weighing both sides," Ralston told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I could have stayed in Boston. I felt like the opportunity to come back and be part of this might not be there next year. I felt like it was something I didn't want to miss. I felt this was the right time and the right place for me."
Ralston played at a year at Forest Park Community College in St. Louis prior to attending Florida International University. He will work with head coach Claude Anelka, the brother of Chelsea attacker Nicolas Anelka, and director of player development Francisco Filho. AC St. Louis is a new entry in the revamped tier of Division II soccer, which will be overseen by U.S. Soccer.
"This is a day I always dreamed would happen," said Ralston. "I think anyone who plays professional sports wants to play in their hometown. I am fortunate to get to do just that at this stage of my career. Obviously it is an exciting time for soccer in St. Louis since we now have our own professional team. I am honored to be the first player to become a part of this new franchise."