[MLS] Steve Ralston, MLS's all-time assist leader who announced his retirement Tuesday, has joined the Houston Dynamo coaching staff. "I didn’t want to pass up this opportunity," said Ralston, who played several seasons with Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear in Tampa, in a telephone interview. "I don't think the situation could be any better, to work with Dom. He was a great teammate in Tampa and his record as a coach speaks for itself."
Ralston replaces assistant coach John Spencer, who left the Dynamo two weeks ago. A top candidate for several MLS head coaching positions the past few years, Spencer is expected to be hired to coach Portland, which joins the league next season.
“All this happened pretty quickly,” said Ralston, who started his MLS career with Tampa in the inaugural 1996 season. “I heard about it from [Revs head coach] Steve Nicol, because Dom asked him for permission to talk to me. That was just last week, so there wasn’t a lot of time to think about it, but for the last year or so, my body’s been telling me things maybe I didn’t want to hear.”
Ralston suffered a broken fibula near the end of the 2008 season, and last year went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Rather than sign a new MLS contract at a reduced salary, in February he joined up with second-division AC St. Louis in his hometown as player/assistant coach. Financial problems with the club prompted a move back to New England in June, yet a dislocated elbow sidelined him once again.
Ralston, 36, retires as the league’s all-time assist leader (135), some of which he compiled playing with Kinnear in Tampa, which folded after the 2001 season. “It was great to play with him,” laughed Ralston. “He’d always tell me, ‘You go forward, Steve, I’ve got you covered.’
“Some days I wake up and I feel great, and I think I could play three or four more years. Other days I was thinking, “I just hope I can get through this training session.’ Like I said, this past year there were a lot more of those days than good days, and with all the injuries I’ve had, it just seemed like the right time to do something else.”
He joined the Revs in 2002 and that season played in the first of four MLS Cups (also 2005, 2006, 2007), all of which New England lost. “I came in at the same time Stevie did, and to be honest, there was never a day when I didn’t look forward to coming into training,” said Ralston. “I became a better player being here and working under him. All these [coaches] have been a big influence on my career.
“I know I had teammates for a few years but friends for the rest of my life. Jay [Heaps] and Taylor [Twellman] and myself have been through four unforgettable games. Unfortunately there wasn’t the outcome that we had hoped for.”
As negotiations with Houston moved along, he hoped to play one final game for the Revs on Tuesday in the SuperLiga, and announce his retirement afterward. Instead, he sat out the match yet still held a postgame press conference.
“I’m here tonight to let everybody know I’m officially retiring, for real, this time,” he said Tuesday. “Obviously, it wasn’t an easy decision, but I’ll look back with a lot of great memories on being with this organization.”
Ralston holds a U.S. Soccer ‘B’ coaching license and says he plans to take the ‘A’ course as soon as possible. He will meet up with the Dynamo in Columbus for a Saturday match against the Crew to join assistants Wade Barrett and Tim Hanley on the bench.
“He’s been a fantastic player over the years,” Kinnear said of Ralston in a Dynamo press release. “Being friends with him, we’ve talked soccer a lot, and I have a lot of respect for his views on the game. He’s a person of excellent character, and he’s very honest and loyal, and for me that makes a great addition to the staff.”