FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Midfielder Steve Ralston said he feels close to returning from a dislocated elbow he suffered just a minute after entering last month’s international friendly against Brazilian team Cruzeiro.
That appears to be some of the best news Ralston has received in quite some time. Between injuries and an aborted attempt to return to his home state of Missouri in the offseason, Ralston has had some personal tests to overcome. True to his nature, the resilient playmaker is closing in on a return to the Revolution in an attempt to help a team he first joined back in 2002.
While Ralston said he was grateful for the chance to come back to New England, after second-division team AC St. Louis encountered financial problems and unloaded salaries, the 36-year-old immediately fell prey to another in a line of injuries that have taken a toll on his lengthy and superlative career.
“The last two years have been difficult,’’ Ralston said following Thursday morning’s training session. “I’ve had the knee and now my elbow and my shoulder and I broke my leg. All of these things have happened in the last couple of years so with all these things, it’s getting harder and harder. I know I can’t play forever and I don’t take anything for granted any more.’’
Ralston holds the MLS career records for minutes played (33,143), games started (372) and appearances (378), as well as assists (135) and game-winning assists (41).
After beginning his career in Tampa Bay, where he was rookie of the year in 1996, Ralston came to the Revolution in 2002 when Tampa and Miami were contracted from the league. He acknowledged Thursday that he never wanted to come to Boston, leaving behind the Florida weather and cost of living, but admitted it has been a tremendous move.
But Ralston said he had hoped the move to Missouri, where he planned to help launch the team as a player-coach, would be a final step in his career.
“At first I didn’t want to come here but I’m so glad I did,’’ he said. “It’s been unbelievable. But for me I want to be closer to family and all my family is kind of midwest and south. I’m a family guy and I have three young kids and that’s the most important thing. I went back there with the idea to help build the team and be a part of it. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. There were some issues that happened there. It was disappointing that it didn’t work out as I had hoped. Also, I’m glad I got the chance to come back here.’’
While always a solid athlete, Ralston was never known for lightning speed or brute strength. He relied primarily on wonderful technical ability and a keen soccer insight that helped him see developments just slightly ahead of his competitors. A good goal scorer, his final passing ability more often set him apart from his peers.
Now he’s hoping to get just a bit more out of his body in an effort to help straighten the jagged edges that are souring the Revolution’s performances this season to the tune of a 3-9-2 record.
“I haven’t seen the doctor since last week but everything was good,’’ he said. “I just need to keep rehabbing and get mobility back. But time, really. Just let it heal. They said six weeks. I think I’ll be back before that. I don’t know if I’ll be back for this weekend.’’
Ralston, who was lined up at right back in Thursday’s training, said the brace he has gives him the confidence to play without risking another dislocation.
“It locks out and prevents me from extending it,’’ he said. “That’s the problem with the injury I had. I can bring it up here [shoulder high] no problem. If I were to overextend it again, it has a good chance of popping out. As good as I feel, if I were to fall there’s a good chance it pops out again and I’d start back over.’’
Despite his recent run of bad luck, Ralston is taking everything in stride and working his way back into playing shape.
“I was disappointed and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry about the situation,’’ he said. “But at the end of the day it also gives me more time to make sure that my knee is definitely where it needs to be.’’
Confident he can still bring that bit of guile and sophistication to a team badly in need same, Ralston is hoping he can coax another season out of his aging body.
“I feel [with age] you get better with that part of your game,’’ he said. “Obviously, for me at this point in my career, it’s about trying to get healthy, stay fit and those kinds of things. I definitely have doubts here and there. You have good days and you have bad days coming off the injury. Just in general, at my age, there are days when I feel pretty good in training and there are days when I feel pretty sore. I feel like, ‘Man, I just feel slow today and I don’t have the steps anymore.’ And I felt pretty good today. I just hope those good days are on Saturdays.’’