There's no question that Landon Donovan will retire as one of the greatest American players ever when he hangs up the boots at the end of this season. Donovan has starred at the international and club level as he has appeared in three World Cups and won five MLS championships. His long list of accolades include 14 consecutive MLS All-Star nods, the MLS Golden Boot in 2008 and a MLS MVP title in 2009. He's currently the all-time leading goal scorer for the LA Galaxy, MLS and the US national team.
Donovan could add another feather to his cap if he's able to snag six assists in the Galaxy's remaining nine games. If he accomplishes this feat, he would equal Steve Ralston's record for most assists in MLS history. And with all due respect for Donovan, this is something that I don't want to see.
Donovan has been an important factor in the growth of both MLS and US soccer and I'm sure he will continue to be an ambassador for the game long after he quits playing. The magnitude of Donovan's influence has been on display during the midfielder's farewell tour as opposing teams have recognized him with ceremonies and gifts. The California native will participate in a US national team sendoff game on October 10th in Hartford, CT. All of these moments are well-deserved, but that doesn't mean that I want him to be the league's best helper.
To me, Ralston is an appropriate representative to hold the title. An MLS-lifer (besides the short stint with AC St. Louis), Ralston always put in yeomen's work. Originally a member of the Tampa Bay Mutiny, Ralston made a living off feeding players like Carlos Valderrama and Roy Lassister. By the time the Mutiny ceased operations in 2001, Ralston had already collected 62 assists.
A change of location didn't affect Ralston's production as he had 19 helpers in his first season with the New England Revolution. When he retired in 2009, the midfielder had amassed 135 assists, 73 of which came in Revolution colors.
Ralston serves as a fine representative for MLS. He's a hard-worker that any team in the league would have loved to have on their team. Never a flashy player, Ralston provided essential leadership and was always willing to do what his coach asked. More than anything, he provided consistent and picturesque crosses that sparked the attack. Donovan overtaking Jeff Cunningham as the league's all-time leading scorer felt right because Jamaican's status as a journeyman. Ralston, however, was a dedicated servant who only played for two teams.
Furthermore, Ralston's title serves as compensation for Revolution's bad luck during the glory years of 2002-2007. During this time, the Revs were regulars in the MLS playoffs and played in the finals in 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2007. Unfortunately, the team never brought home any hardware.
On August 30, 2008, disaster struck for the Revs when Taylor Twellman suffered a neck injury in a game against the Galaxy. The prolific scorer tried to make a return to the field but was ultimately forced to retire in 2010 because of concussion symptoms. Over the course of eight seasons in New England, Twellman scored 101 goals. Only 30-years-old when he stepped away from the game, you have to imagine that Twellman could have contended for the all-time goal scoring record.
Seeing Ralston sit atop of the heap with the most assists in MLS history is a reminder of how good the Revolution were during mid-2000's. With so much talent on that team, it's a shame that there isn't more trophies in the case. Ralston's record helps ease the pain of those championship losses.
The designation also helps recognize the talent of Twellman. The two St. Louis natives were a formidable duo that could strike at any time. Since Twellman wasn't able to make a run at the top-scorer title, it's only fitting that Ralston is the league's best assistant.
Donovan's legacy is unaffected by the prospect of tying or usurping Ralston's title. He's an outstanding player that will always be remembered. Ralston, however, deserves a place in the annals of MLS history and without the record he could be forgotten. And let's be honest, that would be a shame.