FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Soccer fans have looked at the consistent production of New England Revolution midfielder Steve Ralston for years and wondered why the U.S. national team could not use a proven weapon such as he at the MLS level.
Bemused by Ralston's inability to hold down a spot with the national team, a concept permeated through the Internet called "The Ralston Line."
Its principles stated that Ralston was the line for potential international stardom, with players who had less talent failing at the higher level, while those who rose above found a consistent spot in the team. Ralston himself was the poster boy for someone who could have made it but did not.
Perhaps it is time to revisit the theorem.
After a stellar 2003 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Ralston threw himself back into the national team picture last season with solid play in MLS, earning three caps. Following a start in the last qualifier against Jamaica with passage to the hexagonal ensured, Ralston gained a regular spot in camp with his play during friendlies early in the season.
Midway through qualifying for Germany 2006, Ralston has seized the right midfield berth vacated by Cobi Jones and Earnie Stewart at the end of the semifinal round.
"With Earnie Stewart and Cobi not with the team anymore, there are doors open," said Ralston. "This time around, I'm more comfortable and confident. I'm comfortable enough to get it down and play."
After a series of uneven performances prior to the 2003 Gold Cup, Ralston has found the comfort level to cope with the international pressure.
"With the national team, you have to prove yourself every game," said Ralston. "I hope to continue with them through World Cup qualifying and into the World Cup."
With the CONCACAF Gold Cup on the horizon, U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena has called in a nearly full-strength squad. Ralston will marshal the right side of midfield for most of July, leaving his club side without their dependable right midfielder.
"I have to try to take it one game at a time," said Ralston. "It's good preparation for qualifying. It helps to build cohesion within the team because you're together for a month. Without the Gold Cup, you just pull the team together for five to six days prior to a qualifier. The tournament will be better preparation for us."
The St. Louis native admits that the fine streak the Revolution has enjoyed this season benefits himself and fellow Revolution national team hopefuls Clint Dempsey, Pat Noonan, Matt Reis, and perhaps Taylor Twellman, in their quest to reach Germany 2006.
"[U.S. national team coach] Bruce [Arena] takes guys that are on winning teams that have winning attitudes," said Ralston. "With New England, we feel like we can win every game. For the team, it's great recognition having four players selected. With [Revolution striker] Taylor [Twellman] recovering, it could be five."
Kyle McCarthy is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.