The transgressions of Rafa Marquez - the headbutt to Cobi Jones in Jeonju and the midair stomping of Tim Howard in Columbus - will forever be ingrained in the minds of U.S. supporters.
These moments, along with his 13-year tenure as the face of the Mexican national team have both Red Bull fans and MLS enthusiasts apprehensive towards his signing in New York. This quandary of allegiances is specific to lovers of our sport, where club hostilities overlap with national pride and vice versa.
How does a fan react when a player who has long been their national team’s prime enemy sign with their club? Red Bull fans, long tortured, should receive a player once considered a villain as the fabulous player that he is.
Those aforementioned moments aside, Marquez is simply a perfect signing for Major League Soccer. At the age of 31, the captain of El Tri has the chance to change the fortunes of a club, both on and off the field, immediately and in the future.
With 163 appearances for Barcelona and 94 caps for Mexico, Marquez’s resume speaks for itself. He has had the most illustrious career of any CONCACAF player during this young century, or ever if you neglect his former manager Hugo Sanchez. Rarely does a player of this pedigree arrive in MLS, let alone at the age of 31.
But the above only acknowledges the past and not how El Kaiser can affect the resurgent Red Bulls on the pitch. With the signing of Thierry Henry, Hans Backe and Erik Soler looked poised to satiate Red Bulls supporters’ crave for a playmaker with the signing of a classic No. 10.
Marquez was not considered ideal in the eyes of those supporters who only remember his crimes in the green kit rather than his brilliant ability. The holding midfielder will be perfect to balance a Red Bull starting eleven that has become decidedly attack-heavy with the signing of Thierry Henry. No, Marquez is not a Juan Roman Riquelme nor a Ronaldinho, but he’s always been one of the premier passing defenders in the world.
Saturday’s match against Houston proved that Backe’s squad does not need that quintessential playmaker. The Dynamo backline dropped off the fearsome Henry, well aware of his lethal speed. This afforded the Frenchman the space to create both of Juan Pablo Angel’s goals.
What may have been exposed, though, is the need for improvement at the bottom of the Red Bull midfield. Tony Tchani, although possessing outlandish athleticism, still is early in his maturation as an MLS player, while Seth Stammler supplies merely a destroying presence in the center of the park. Neither has the ability to provide Angel and Henry the service in dangerous areas they need to fully unlock the pair's full potential.
Henry’s possible influence on young forwards Macoumba Kandji and Juan Agudelo has been trumpeted throughout the press. But what about the impact that Rafa can have on the Red Bull youth? Tchani is the player that immediately comes to mind. The raw Cameroonian seems capable of eventually dominating matches; yet, he also he appears to always lose his vision once entering the final third. The tutelage a player of Marquez’s experience could help Tchani realize his vast potential and create the player that Red Bull envisioned when they selected him second overall in the 2010 SuperDraft.
Discussions about a signing of a Designated Player inevitably involve how he will increase ticket sales. Marquez is the idealized player for the Big Apple, where Mexicans are the fastest growing ethnic group. With the additions of both Rafa and the renowned Henry, the Red Bulls are now poised to fill the immaculate new Red Bull Arena.
But is there a better method to have fans travel to Harrison than to feature a winning squad? Sorry, Cobi and Tim. A player’s past is irrelevant as long as the MLS Cup is hoisted in Toronto by the Red Bulls squad.
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