Rafa Marquez May Not Be the Worst Signing In MLS History, But He’s In the Running

Rmarquez

The New York Red Bulls officially cut ties with Mexican superstar Rafa Marquez today, ending the player’s stormy two-and-a-quarter seasons with the MLS club.

We wondered about Marquez’s apparent character issues when New York signed him back in August 2010, and sure enough, the ones we, and millions of U.S. fans, had witnessed were not an aberration. The guy has a raging chemical fire where his sense of judgment and perspective should be. We’ve seen it time and time again.

A brief review:

• 2002 World Cup: He head-butts and kicks Cobi Jones, leaving the U.S. midfielder flat on the ground and drawing a straight red.

• In a Feb 2009 World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Marquez went studs-up into U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, drawing another red.

• Following New York’s 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake in Sept 2011, Marquez—an eight-year veteran of Barcelona and the captain of Mexico’s national team—threw his less experienced teammates under the bus, saying he played as well as he could but, “I don’t have, unfortunately, [other] defenders on my level that can help me out.”

• He didn’t stop there, either. Asked about fellow center back Tim Ream, Marquez said, “Tim is still a young player with a lot to learn. He still has quite a lot to learn, and well, he has committed errors that are very infantile and cost us goals.” Coach Hans Backe suspended Marquez for one game for the outburst.

• Later that season, following a tense, 1-0 loss to Los Angeles in the first round of the MLS playoffs, Marquez chucked the game ball at Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan, sparking a bench-clearing fracas and getting himself suspended for the crucial second leg. Which New York lost.

Here’s the clip:

• In an April 2012 game against San Jose, Marquez bear-hugged Earthquakes winger Shea Salinas on a corner kick and slammed him to the ground, breaking the midfielder’s clavicle and drawing a three-game suspension.

See it here:

• In the first leg of this season’s Eastern Conference semifinal against D.C., Marquez launched a halftime verbal assault on Backe after the coach replaced him with Roy Miller.

• The capper: In the second leg of that series, just minutes after New York gained a man advantage due to D.C. keeper Bill Hamid’s red card, Marquez gave it back, picking up his second yellow, for a reckless challenge on Chris Pontius. D.C. would go on to win the game 1-0 with an 88th-minute goal.

Marquez finished each of his last two MLS seasons with red cards.

How Do We Know It Was a Big Game for RBNY Last Night? The Team Came Out Flat, and Henry Lost His S***

Sporting Kansas City came to Red Bull Arena last night, and the stakes were high: Six games to play, and just two points separating the teams at the top of the Eastern Conference table.

The winner of the game would be posting a direct message to the other team’s feed: 14o ALL CAPS characters of we-want-the-conference-title-and-the-playoff-homefield-advantage-that-goes-with-it.

The Red Bulls were coming off a solid 3-1 win over the streaking Columbus Crew, they were riding a five-game unbeaten run, and they were playing at home, where they hadn’t lost all season (10-0-3).

So naturally, they gave up two early goals and produced a sloppy performance en route to a 2-0 defeat. And at the end of the frustrating night, superstar Thierry Henry pulled one of his unhinged, poorly-disguised cheap-shot moves that might (should) get him suspended for Saturday’s important game at New England.

It’s not in the highlights below (c’mon MLS), so continue reading after the clip to find out what happened:

The Henry Incident

Late in the game, as the teams lined up for a free kick, Henry came charging through the top of the box and clipped Kei Kamara’s head with his own, sending the KC big man down, and then—and here was where it got rich—clutching his own head as if he’d been gonged by the “accidental” collision as well.

There were two flaws in the Frenchman’s charade, though: First, he was holding the top/back of his head in “pain,” but the replays showed he made contact with his forehead (the proper place to head the ball, and—if that’s how you roll—to head butt someone, because your forehead is hard and heading with it doesn’t hurt).

Second, the incident itself is just not plausible. You came running through a not-all-that-crowded part of the field and conked heads with an opponent? It wasn’t avoidable? You didn’t see the biggest man on the field directly in front of you? For real?

The incident is also strikingly similar to Henry’s 2010 kick of FC Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman (which happened two years ago to the day; see it here), and his 2011 knee to the back of the head of Kansas City midfielder Roger Espinoza (click here).

Henry suffered no repercussions for the Hartman incident (even though Hartman missed several weeks with an MCL sprain), but he did see a straight red for the Espinoza knock, as the ref judged (correctly, we’d say) that Henry could have avoided the contact and instead engaged in it deliberately.

What will happen in the wake of this one? Fortunately, Kamara was unharmed. Fair or not, if Henry had opened up a cut on the KC striker’s head (head wounds bleed a lot, remember), a suspension would’ve probably been a lock. As it happened, there was some grey area—a hallmark of all three incidents—that could produce enough doubt for him to benefit from. Or not. We shall see when the MLS Disciplinary Committee releases its report.

Some more thoughts on the Red Bulls’ biggest game of the year so far:

Dax McCarty has been one of New York’s best players all season, but he had a stinker last night. Loads of giveaways, overwhelmed by KC midfield.

This team is probably better without Rafa Marquez in the lineup. The high-priced former Barcelona man lends a touch of class on the ball, and he had a good game against Columbus last week, but last night, he was back to his lackadaisical, turnover-prone  ways.

New York’s tendency to concede early goals is alarming (and oddly reminiscent of the U.S. national team under Bob Bradley). They’ve surrendered 11 goals in the first 15 minutes of games this year. Yikes.

Kenny Cooper gets in good spots, but usually muffs his plays from those spots. He was part of several promising moves last night, but came away with nothing to show for them. He should have scored on a header from Henry’s brilliant cross, and he played an inexplicable ball directly to KC keeper Jimmy Nielsen when he had wide-open spaces in front of him, and Joel Lindpere streaking down the middle toward goal.

Hey, Lloyd Sam looked pretty good. The speedy former Charlton Athletic winger livened up the Red Bulls’ attack as a second-half sub. A bright spot for New York.

Rafa Marquez: Still a D***

The latest confirmation comes from this past Saturday’s 2-2 draw with San Jose at Red Bull Arena.

The former Barcelona defender broke the collarbone of Earthquakes winger Shea Salinas with this maneuver—though it’s unclear if the NFL tackle or the parting kick did the damage. You be the judge:

U.S. fans first discovered Marquez’s d***ishness in 2002, when he head-butted and kicked Cobi Jones in the famous dos a cero game that eliminated El Tri from the World Cup in Germany.

They saw another example in 2009, when he got a straight red card for going studs-up into Tim Howard’s knee during a World Cup qualifier (another 2-0 win for the U.S.).

Last season in New York, Red Bulls fans witnessed multiple examples, none more stark than his public criticism of his teammates after a September loss to Real Salt Lake, and his incitement of a postgame melée with Los Angeles after a playoff loss to the Galaxy in September.

After that last misstep, it looked like the Mexico captain was on his way out of New York. He’d thrown his teammates under the boss, behaved like a surly five-year-old, and worst of all, underperformed on the field.

But no: he said he’d be back, and promised to be on his best behavior, in all phases.

Now, just six games into the new season, that plan is off the rails. Major League Soccer’s new Disciplinary Committee is going to have a look at that play, and will almost certainly hand down a suspension, probably for multiple games.

How will Marquez react, and how will this impact the Red Bulls’ season, recently on the uptick?

The answers suggested by recent history are not promising.

Red Bulls Lose Match, Draw Postgame Donnybrook

The Red Bulls gave up a 15th-minute goal to former New York attacker Mike Magee, and despite a furious effort, could not find an equalizer over the remaining 75 minutes, falling 1-0 to Los Angeles in the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal series at Red Bull Arena yesterday afternoon.

The Galaxy backline, ably anchored by keeper Josh Saunders—who made five saves, three of them outstanding ones—bent but did not break and succeeded in frustrating New York.

Most frustrated of all was midfielder Rafa Marquez, who had a point blank volley stuffed by Saunders in stoppage time, and then boiled over after the final whistle. The Mexico captain fired the game ball at Landon Donovan as the LA midfielder walked near midfield, sparking a full-blown fracas near the halfway line.

Marquez and Galaxy midfielder Juninho were red-carded for their roles in the dustup, and will miss the second leg on Thursday. We’d say that’s a push in terms of personnel losses for the two sides.

Here’s the incident:

(We enjoyed Harkes‘s “maybe a fly went into his eye” comment.)

And here are the very entertaining match highlights:

The return leg should be something to see, that much you can be sure of. It’s on Thursday at 11:00 pm ET on ESPN2.

We put on our MLS press fedora and went into the Galaxy locker room after the game to get some quotes on both the melee and the performance of LA keeper  Saunders.

Donovan told us some very interesting things. Go check them out here, and see here for the Galaxy’s take on Saunders’ game-saving turn between the pipes.

The New York–LA clash led a pretty spectacular weekend of MLS playoff action, including more feistiness in Philly, a shocker in Salt Lake, and a freakish plague of injuries in Colorado. Catch up on all of that right here.

Hans Backe Tells Marquez: “Take It Easy, Champ”

In a scene we picture going a little like this…

…New York Red Bulls coach Hans Backe suspended designated player Rafa Marquez for Saturday’s crucial game against Portland.

The move comes in the wake of the player’s locker-room-poisoning comments after Wednesday’s embarrassing 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake.

We like it, and not only from a team-morale perspective. Clearly, there had to be some response to the unprofessional and uncalled-for comments, and Marquez, as we’ve said before, has not played close to his best this season, so it’s debatable whether he’ll be missed on Saturday, especially given his current mindset.

Further, the Red Bulls’ victory over Dallas last week—their first win since July 6—came without the Mexican designated player in the lineup and featured a staunch defensive effort by the backline that Marquez infamously claimed was not up to his level.

So the plot thickens for what was already a slam-bang slate of weekend MLS action: In addition to the As the World Turns doings in New York, there’s a battle for first in the East tonight between Sporting Kansas City and Philadelphia, a Texas derby match on Saturday, and a Cascadia Cup game that will also be the last match at Empire Field before the Whitecaps move to the revamped BC Place.

Other key games include a showdown between conference leaders Columbus and Los Angeles, and a matchup between red-hot Real Salt Lake and playoff hopefuls DC United.

Come Sunday evening, the playoff picture should be in much sharper focus—along with the futures of more than one Red Bull New York employee.

Quote of the Day

Congrats Rafa. U look like an ass & ur team mates now hate you. At least u have killer apartment in NYC.”

Courtesy of Grant Wahl, the above hard-hitting tweet is by U.S. and Estudiantes Tecos striker Herculez Gomez (left),  in response to Rafa Marquez’s comments that his Red Bull teammates are not on the “same level” as he is.

After making his initial comments, Marquez, who earns $4.6 million per year, was asked if he was happy in New York.

He replied, “Me? I live very well.”

Marquez Underperforms (Again), Then Graciously Blames Teammates After 3-1 Loss to Real Salt Lake

We had our doubts about Rafa Marquez’s character ever since this:

But when he signed with the Red Bulls, we set them aside, preferring to focus on his possession skills, his passing out of the back, and his impressive pedigree that included 163 appearances for Barcelona. Surely these qualities would guarantee his success in MLS, and the Mexico captain would help boost the long-troubled New York franchise out of the doldrums.

It hasn’t worked out that way—to say the least—and last night we caught a glimpse of the cheap-shotting Rafa of 2002: After his second straight poor performance for the club, Marquez told the New York Daily News:

“Unfortunately there isn’t an equal level between my teammates and I.”

“I’m focusing on really performing at my highest level. That doesn’t mean that the whole backline can perform at that same level, so that’s a problem.”

How’s that for leadership?

Especially considering that Marquez played badly and was at least partly to blame (along with Jan Gunnar Solli) for RSL striker Fabian Espindola’s backbreaking third goal—in the 21st minute.

That’s right, in the biggest game of the season so far, New York gave up three goals in the first 21 minutes. As broadcaster Steve Cangelosi said, the roof just caved in.

They actually began fairly well, attacking agressively, but then a wrongly awarded corner kick ended up in the back of their net in the seventh minute after Teemu Tainio, the shortest player on the team, was left marking RSL’s six-foot striker Alvaro Saborio, and got beaten to a near-post header. It was the 271st set-piece goal the team has conceded this year.*

Four minutes later, Tim Ream made another one of his glaring mental errors. For all of his good qualities, Ream averages one of these about every other game—though he isn’t always punished for them. Last night he was, severely—Espindola took his weakly hit backpass and rounded New York keeper Frank Rost to put the visitors up 2-0 after 11 minutes. (He also knocked off the wheels from the Tim-Ream-is-the-US-centerback-of-the-future bandwagon.)

As Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said, “Our group was ready to play this game, and New York wasn’t.” Real Salt Lake has won five straight.

There was one bright spot for New York, and that was—no surprise here—Joel Lindpere. The Estonian midfielder, who would never throw his teammates under the bus to the press, hit the crossbar twice and scored on a spectacular bicycle kick.

On to the grisly highlights (they got the date wrong when they posted them, just FYI):

Despite the ugly loss, the Red Bulls are still in the thick of the playoff chase, thanks to surprising ties by DC United and Portland last night (more on those shortly).

New York plays Portland, which currently sits one point ahead of the Red Bulls in the 10th and final playoff spot, in a pivotal matchup on Saturday night.

*Not an official stat.