FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Steve Ralston didn’t even start many of his high school soccer games. Then he played for a community college in St. Louis.

The New England Revolution midfielder has come a long way since then.

Ralston scored the winning goal in the game that clinched a berth for the United States in the 2006 World Cup, has played 36 games for the U.S. national team and has the most assists in the history of Major League Soccer in his 14-year career.

So the fact that the quiet, humble Ralston still hasn’t won an MLS championship doesn’t gnaw at him. Even if he is the only player who hasn’t won a title among the four original MLS players who are still active.

He’s come very close, but the Revolution have lost all four championship games he’s played in, although he was part of two CONCACAF Gold Cup winning teams.

“A lot of guys don’t even get a chance to play in a final,” Ralston said. “The fact that I’ve been able to play in four finals and win some tournaments is good. So, obviously, it’s not over yet and I’m hoping to get my hands on the MLS Cup at one point.”

The Revolution are 2-0 but Ralston missed those road games with a strained thigh muscle. He hoped to play Saturday night in the home opener against FC Dallas.

“I love what I do and I love coming to work every day and not many people can say that,” Ralston said. “I know that it’s coming to an end not too far down the road, but I wish I could do it forever.”

Ralston spent one year at Forest Park Community College then three at Florida International. He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Mutiny and was MLS’ first rookie of the year in 1996. He went to the Revolution in the 2002 allocation draft.

Last year he was still good enough to be an MLS All-Star and the Revolution’s most valuable player.

“It’s just flown by. It really has,” he said. “I hope I’ve got a few more years left.”

Maybe more than a few.

Taylor Twellman also joined New England in 2002 and has scored 99 goals, many of them on passes from the 5-foot-9, 160-pound Ralston.

“If he plays his cards right and he takes care of his body, he can play till he’s 42, 43 years old because he’s got the body type and the soccer brain,” Twellman said. “He’s a guy you want on your field no matter what game it is, no matter where he’s playing. He just gives you a calming influence.”

Mike Burns started in the league the same year as Ralston and played for the Revolution from 1996 to 2000, before Ralston arrived. He retired in 2002 and is now New England’s vice president, player personnel.

“He, for me, is one of the true consummate professionals in the history of our league,” Burns said, “and he’s maybe one of the only players in the league that I ever felt bad kicking because he’s such a nice guy and you didn’t want to hurt him.”

Ralston rarely got hurt for most of his MLS career.

Then last year he missed five games early in the season with a dislocated left shoulder and sat out the last two regular season games and the playoffs with a broken right leg. Now he’s hoping to come back from his thigh injury.

But he doesn’t attribute any of those injuries to age. And his memory is sharp. He recalls being a teammate of Carlos Valderrama, the Colombian star who is now 47, with Tampa Bay in 1996.

“I had a poster of him in my dorm room in college and I was playing alongside of him,” Ralston said. “Some good times, good memories.”

One big memory is missing – an MLS championship.

The other three original members of the league still playing, Jesse Marsch and Ante Razov of Chivas USA and Jaime Moreno of New York, all have won titles.

Ralston said it’s “hard to have regrets” about a career in which he helped the United States reach the World Cup and win two Gold Cups in addition to his four appearances in MLS championship games.

He’d love to finally win one.

“If anybody deserves it, he does. So let’s hope we can get it for him,” coach Steve Nicol said. “I can think of nothing better than to see him standing up, receiving the trophy.”

AP-ES-04-02-09 1902EDT


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