Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dead Man Walking: Time to Unload Marquez

The Red Bulls Need to Cut Their Losses on Marquez
When news broke following the Real Salt Lake home match that Rafa Marquez had made disparaging comments about the play of his teammates - Tim Ream in particular - there were some fans who were quick to jump to the Mexican's defense. Ream did have an awful game, they argued, and Rafa was only stating an uncomfortable truth: the Rookie of the Year candidate we saw last year has been nowhere to be found since this summer's Gold Cup fiasco. Never mind that Marquez's remarks about playing on a higher plane than his teammates were ridiculous on their face and bad for team morale - not to mention demonstrably false.

Hans Backe and the Red Bulls did the only thing they could do in the face of the Marquez media firestorm - suspend him for the next match against Portland. In a series of media interviews, Rafa sounded somewhat contrite, though the fact that he even entertained questions about being traded to another team on ESPN Deportes' Jorge Ramos y su Banda program had some - including yours truly - wondering whether the Mexican had already decided that he wanted no further part of the three-ring circus in Harrison.

Having disposed of Portland - without Rafa - thanks to a gritty defensive performance, a nicely taken Dane Richards goal and a slice of luck, the Red Bulls moved on to Toronto. The stage was all set for Marquez to return to the fold and demonstrate to all the doubters that he was worthy of his designated player salary (not to mention his own high opinion of himself). Relegating Dax McCarty to the bench, Hans Backe paired Marquez with Teemu Tainio in central midfield, opting to keep Stephen Keel at the back alongside Ream. Maybe, Backe's thinking likely went, a change of scenery will see The Real Rafa re-emerge.

Sadly, Marquez's performance over nearly eighty minutes last night at BMO fell well below the standard for an MLS starter, much less a highly payed designated player. The Red Bulls played a listless, aimless and lazy first half, but no player showed less initiative and drive than Marquez. Rather than raising his intensity level, Rafa hardly broke a sweat over the first 45 minutes, rarely exceeding walking pace and content to play square five yard passes to teammates, rather than trying to stamp his authority on the game.

In the second half, an atrocious giveaway by the Mexican was directly responsible for a Toronto FC break that resulted in TFC's go-ahead goal. The fact that Marquez played a poor pass is hardly unforgivable - it happens to professional players all the time - but his lack of hustle in getting back to disrupt the Toronto attack is (witness his casual stroll here). Conspiracy-minded fans might even wonder if Marquez was "sandbagging" it, i.e. intentionally playing poorly in order to force a move away from New York. That might seem harsh, but it's hard to square what we saw in Toronto with what we've seen over the years with Barcelona and the Mexican National Team.

Astonishingly, Backe left Marquez in the match for another 29 minutes following the incident. McCarty would eventually be brought on in his place, but by then the Red Bulls had little time left. They left Toronto with an unsatisfactory 1-1 draw, thanks to a late bit of magic by Thierry Henry, and now must now hope that they can get enough points over their final three matches to scrape into the playoffs. It's no easy run-in, with Los Angeles Galaxy, in-form Sporting Kansas City and hated rivals Philadelphia Union still to come.

The question for Backe now is whether he can afford to give Marquez yet another opportunity. On the evidence of Saturday's performance, few fans would criticize the Swede if he were to bench Rafa from now until the end of the season. At this point, even if it means eating part of the contract, Erik Soler should consider finding a way to unload Marquez over the winter. In a salary cap league, there's no sense in the Red Bulls keeping a DP player who does not want to be here and whose play is detrimental to the thing that matters most - getting results.
blog comments powered by Disqus