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Gomez vs. Ralston, which pickup was bigger?

Ralston and Anelka, the coaching core of AC.

At the start of the season, AC St. Louis fans were ecstatic at their first signing. Steve Ralston, the St. Louis native who had a number of successful years in the MLS, first with the Tampa Bay Mutiny and then captaining the New England Revolution. Instead of extending his contract (and paying more for babysitters), Ralston found himself back in St. Louis, where he will look to finish his career with AC.

For weeks, AC St. Louis had the player signing of the new league. Yes, there were other big name players, but Ralston was the big enchilada. Until March 25th, that is.

Miami FC has been a team that has always drawn some of the big names in soccer. Most notability, because of The Blues Brazilian connections, names like Júnior Baiano, Zinho and, of course, Romario have been, and still are, part of Miami’s history. And on March 25th, Miami FC decided to dip yet again into it’s rich South American roots and sign Argentinian midfielder Christian Gomez.

We all know that Ralston and Gomez are able to put the ball in the back of the net, but who go the better end of the deal?

Well, most of us already know about Steve Ralston. Drafted by the Tampa Bay Mutiny in the first ever MLS College Draft in 1996, Ralston is the holder of a number of MLS records. He currently holds the record for most assists (135), appearances (378) and starts (372). He has been named to the MLS Best XI twice, once with New England and another time with Tampa.

But another thing that Ralston has is leadership. Being the captain of the New England Revolution, he is able to help his new, and quite young team, focus on the task at hand. One thing that might hinder AC this season is not only the fact that they are young, but they are newly assembled as well. And Ralston, who lead his team to the MLS Cup four times, is exactly what this new team needs. Ralston might just be the “X-factor” in AC St. Louis’ success this season.

Now lets look at Christian Gomez. Gomez has been on the MLS Best XI three times in a row from 2005 to 2007. In addition to being part of the high-flying DC United team, which saw him play with the likes of Luciano Emilio, Ben Olsen and Jaime Moreno, Gomez scored 60 goals during his career at Nueva Chicago in Argentina. Therefore, we know he has the talent to give Miami FC one of the best offensive threats in the NASL.

But which player will mean more to their team? First of all, Ralston is in a highly important position, the midfield. True, any position is important, but Ralston can go on the attack as easily as he can lay back and defend. This type of versatile player is exactly the type that you are looking for when you are trying to build a franchise from scratch. Gomez, on the other hand, can score, but does that make him a one trick pony?

Second, Ralston has a habit of making players around him look good. Ralston looked just as good being a member of the New England Revolution as he did the Tampa Bay Mutiny. And when he plays well, people around him play well. And the leadership he brought at New England shows that he has that little bit extra to make a new franchise work. With Gomez, he was part of a team that had quite a bit of offensive talent already. Not to say that Ralston didn’t have any talent at New England, very very far from it, but it was easier for Gomez to blend in DC, even if he was one of their standout players. And when Gomez left DC to go to Colorado, you could tell he just wasn’t the same player without the DC supporting cast.

Finally, we need to look at why each player is going where they are. As for Ralston, we all know. A St. Louis boy coming home to help out his home team. He isn’t just looking for a paycheck (which he could have easily had in New England). Basically, he wanted to turn AC into something special. As far as Gomez, I just see this as a move to Miami, where he can end his career in style and comfort. Now, there is nothing wrong with that at all (and I can be totally off base), but I think that Ralston’s priorities are a little higher in what he wants to see his team accomplish compared to Gomez, who really is starting to look like an aging player.

So, of course in the end, we side with the St. Louis player. Ralston was the bigger pickup. He is, and will be, an important part of this team for many years to come. As for Gomez, well, he is a big name that will give them publicity. But lets see if he can bring that scoring touch back.

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