Monday, August 2, 2010

¡Arriba!: Red Bulls Land Marquez

Today the Red Bulls took another massive step toward solidifying their position as the most hated team in MLS (bring it on!) when they announced the signing of Mexican captain Rafael Marquez from FC Barcelona.

The Marquez signing had been the subject of intense speculation since Dave Braneck of The Daily Harrison broke the rumor that the Red Bulls were in discussions with the player and his (now) former club several weeks ago.  The addition of the Mexican, who will be formally introduced tomorrow during a press conference at Red Bull Arena, caps a remarkable summer transfer window that has seen RBNY transform itself from title outsider to potentially the most dangerous team in MLS.

As was only too apparent in Saturday's disappointing 2-2 draw against the Dynamo down in Houston, the Red Bulls defense remains a work in progress.  Marquez is expected to slot in at the defensive midfield position, in front of Tim Ream and Carlos Mendes, who has surrendered his #4 shirt to Marquez in favor of #44.  An outstanding tackler and a world class distributor from the back, Marquez is also dangerous on set pieces and should provide a lot of steel in midfield, where the Red Bulls have been sorely lacking in quality.  No, he's not the attacking #10 many of us have been asking for, but with Angel, Henry and Marquez all on the pitch at the same time Red Bulls opponents are going to have their hands full.

To get a better sense of Marquez's many talents, click here for a beautifully produced compilation of some of the highlights from his successful tenure at Barcelona.  US Men's National Team fans will, of course, remember Marquez for his notorious headbutt on Cobi Jones at the 2002 World Cup.  I think it's safe to say that while the Red Bulls have sought quality when doing their summer shopping, they also have not shied away from bringing in players with a black mark or two on their records. If RBNY fans thought that Henry got a hard time in Houston this weekend, just wait until Marquez steps on the pitch at the Home Depot Center.  Of course, there may be just as many Mexicans turning out to support him as there are angry USMNT fans.  In the end his exploits for El Tri matter very little if at all for Red Bulls fans.  If he can help deliver the elusive first league title for this club the bad blood will be largely forgotten.

The other area where Marquez could help is of course with attendance at Red Bull Arena.  It remains to be seen if he will have the drawing power of an attacking player such as Cuauhtemoc Blanco, but at the very least Marquez should bring some new fans out to the Arena who wouldn't turn out otherwise.  Quite frankly I'm fed up with the constant head counting, so whether the stadium now sells out or not is pretty far down my list of concerns.  The people who care about this team most will be there regardless, with or without superstars. 

Finally, a few non-Red Bull notes:

The Cosmos are back - well sorta.  Whether this NY2 thing ever comes to fruition, Don Garber is doing his damnedest to make it happen.  You can read my analysis of the state of play for a second New York-area MLS team at All Things Footy.  For our entire MLS Team 20 Project series, which wraps up tomorrow or Wednesday with a look at San Antonio, click here.  I also wrote a piece for ATF today on how to make a balanced MLS schedule work as the league continues to expand.  You can read that here.
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