This was a fun debate, but it's now moot as Ralston was introduced as the first player in AC St. Louis history today (2/1/2010).
Even though MLS preseason camps are getting into full swing, the biggest story in the past couple days is Steve Ralston's decision not to sign with New England for 2010. While I've already touched on what this does to the Revs, there's another side to this story: Where does Ralston end up?
If you saw the Revolution frequently last year, you know that Ralston was still a very good MLS player, and New England was a significantly diminished force after his injury. It's also well known that plenty of MLS teams are looking at pretty underwhelming options in attacking midfield. Ralston should have no shortage of potential suitors around the league. Will teams want to trade for his rights now and ensure he's on board, or wait until the CBA is worked out (which, if it goes the union's way, would give Ralston the right to sign wherever he wants)?
Obviously I believe Ralston will end up in an MLS uniform this year. The question I'm most concerned with is this: Should that uniform have a DC United badge? Beyond the jump, I flesh out the ins and outs of such a move.
This being a question for debate rather than a demand for immediate action, I'll line up some pros and cons about whether this would be a good move:
- Despite having a serious injury towards the end of each of the last two seasons (last year's torn ACL and 2008's broken leg at the hand of Herculez Gomez), Ralston has never been the kind of injury-prone guy that frequently strains muscles, nor is he the kind of prima donna that has to sit with minor joint tweaks. Even though he's 35, you'd never guess it watching him play. Honestly, he didn't look any older last year than he did 5 years ago. Ralston has always taken excellent care of himself, and I have no doubt about his ability to rebound from his ACL tear. This is a guy that should remain an MLS starter for at least this season, and probably in 2011 as well.
- DC's current attacking midfield options are pretty uninspiring. Danny Szetela has not set hearts aflutter; I may be his strongest backer amongst the United internet pundit/blowhard set, and my endorsements are quite tepid. Other choices include playing Santino Quaranta there (forcing him from his natural position and opening a hole at right midfield), dropping Jaime Moreno into that spot (and if Moreno can't be a regular up top, how's he supposed to do the running required in midfield?), or playing two holding midfielders and giving Quaranta and Cristian Castillo the reigns of the attack from the wings (a set-up that has never been popular at RFK).
- Going out and acquiring a playmaker is tricky business. What if the guy doesn't adjust? What if he's another Gallardo (expensive, injured, and disinterested)? Ralston may have questions hanging over his knee, but he's been no worse than "pretty good" in MLS for his entire career. We'd be getting a known quantity, and probably at a lower price than any foreign acquisition. We're talking about MLS's all-time assists leader, after all.
- Speaking of foreign players, I believe we're already at
87: Kocic, James, N'Galula, Jakovic, Allsopp, Castillo, Khumalo, and Shipalane. If I'm not mistaken, that leaves us with onetwo open spots (another piece of data stuck on my old non-working computer). Ralston would allow us to look abroad for a new center back without having to factor in our foreign roster spots. (The Fullback with the correction in the comments...thanks man).
- Ralston was, for the past couple seasons, New England's captain. With Ben Olsen leaving the playing field to become an assistant coach, this is a DC United squad with some questions about leadership throughout the team. We shouldn't ignore things like this; Ralston is a calm presence and a great professional who is rarely booked and can teach our young guys how to have long MLS careers.
- Ralston is 35, and is coming off a 2009 ACL tear and 2008 broken leg. United has clearly been transitioning to a younger team this year. There's no getting around the fact that we'd be going against that by picking up Ralston, no matter how reliably fit he is. While he appeared to recover well from the leg break, an ACL tear is a different animal.
- The expectation is that Ralston won't be ready to start playing until the season is underway (in Kyle McCarthy's article linked previously, the current timeline points to somewhere in late April). If we signed Ralston, we'd still have to play our first few games with the aforementioned unsatisfying options as our only choices.
- Before the CBA is settled, we'd need to trade something to New England to make it happen. The MLS standard in this kind of situation is either a player we weren't interested in, or late-round draft picks. It wouldn't be a high price to pay, but he won't be gotten for free either.
- There will be competition. Looking around MLS, there are a lot of teams that are pretty hard-up for midfield creativity. New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City, Houston, Colorado, San Jose, and Chivas all spring to mind as teams that don't have a better option currently on their roster. Counting us in that group, and we're talking about over half of MLS.
As I've said, this post is a question rather than a demand. I think there are very good reasons for DC to pursue this, but there are also strong arguments to look elsewhere. I'd be happy enough going with Ralston at playmaker if we used our savings there (as opposed to a DP playmaker) to go after a center back that's as good or better than Jakovic and another strong forward option. However, if he ends up elsewhere, I'm not going to be heartbroken. It's not a make-or-break signing, in my mind. Enough about me, though...what do you think?