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


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.

Red Bulls Wrap Up Preseason with Chippy, Less-than-Impressive Draw Against Atlas

We are still awaiting the day when Marquez applies himself in a Red Bull game.

Preseason games can be notoriously misleading, and an isolated preseason game is a limited sample size, for sure, but, man, based on last night’s performance in Glendale, Arizona, the 2011 Red Bulls look a lot like the 2010 Red Bulls—only not as good.

They were missing two projected starters in Juan Agudelo (groin) and Jan Gunnar Solli (undisclosed “minor” injury), but they looked far more than two pieces away from being a contending team. There was no rhythm whatsoever to their play, they struggled to connect passes, and they were fortunate to escape with a 1-1 tie against Atlas, which is currently 4-4-1 after nine games in the Mexican Primera Division.

In short, they looked like what they were last season—a work in progress, a team yet to cohere.

A positive echo of last season was the one player who made something happen—Joel Lindpere, who drew an 88th-minute penalty that enabled New York to tie it up. Sure, he embellished it a little, but he got himself in a good attacking position, made a move, felt contact and went down. Boom: penalty; tie game.

But there was very little else to praise. Thierry Henry vacillated between frustration with his teammates for their inability to read his intentions (we’re looking at you, Dane Richards) and wild-eyed outrage at some rash tackles from the opposition (late in the game, he retaliated for one in a fashion that would have earned him a straight red in 99.9% of the leagues around the world. He got a yellow.).

He had isolated moments of gliding-on-air effectiveness, but overall, Henry did not look like a player ready to dominate MLS competition. Which, you know, was sort of the idea when RBNY brought him over last season.

Rafael Marquez was even worse. He was beaten badly on a ball over the top in the first half, and if not for some excellent cover from American Carlos Mendes, New York would have surrendered a goal on the play. Later, Marquez sent an awkward backpass to Bouna Coundoul that forced the keeper into an even more awkward emergency clearance.

The Mexican international also seemed to mentally float in and out of the game—a trait we saw in his RBNY appearances last season.

Partnering Henry up top was the 6-4 Ghanian Salou Ibrahim—a player that coach Backe spent the preseason going out of his way to say is not in his plans. Now here’s a start, Salou—go get ’em. He was predictably feckless and missed a clear chance in the first half, sending a lob over the bar with the keeper beaten.

New signing Teemu Tainio did not look like the answer in the middle of the park, and slightly ahead of him in midfield, Mehdi Ballouchy made us think Backe and Co. fell in love with the Morrocan prematurely last summer, and made a rash decision when they acquired him from Colorado (which went on to win the league without him, btw).

Ballouchy brings sporadic flashes of skill to the table—and nothing else.

Speaking of one-dimensionality, Dane Richards didn’t even have his primary (solitary?) asset—speed—going last night. Atlas defenders seemed prepared for that element and did an effective job neutralizing the Jamaican winger—when he wasn’t neutralizing himself with unforced errors and passes to no one.

On the positive side, Tim Ream was his usual composed and consistent self at centerback (despite scoring an own goal when a driven cross wrong-footed him), and Mendes, as we suggested earlier, looked pretty good—especially so since he had played 90 minutes against Dallas the day before.

Beyond that, though, if Red Bulls fans want to maintain their optimism for the 2011 season, they’ll have to set this one aside and fuhgettaboudid, as they say in New York.

Marquez Opens Red Bull Account in Style

In the 36th minute of Saturday’s New York-Toronto game at BMO field, recent Red Bulls signing Rafael Marquez took a pass from midfield partner Tony Tchani and half-volleyed a swerving shot into the upper right corner from 25 yards.

Check out the Goal of the Week candidate here:

Five minutes later, Marquez swung in a free kick that caromed off the shin of Toronto midfielder Joseph Nane and into the Toronto net.

Dwayne DeRosario pulled one back for the Reds after the break, but in the 60th minute, Toronto defender Nana Attakora, with Thierry Henry lurking behind him in the box, deliberately punched away a cross from New York winger Dane Richards.

He earned a straight red for the handball, and Juan Pablo Angel banged the penalty in off the crossbar to put New York up 3-1.

Former Toronto midfielder and Backpost whipping boy Carl Robinson scored  a fourth for New York soon after coming on for Marquez in the 74th minute.

Henry has yet to score for New York in MLS play, but he’s been a threat in every game and the team is 2-1-2 with him in the lineup.

The win ended Toronto’s 17-game home unbeaten streak (dating to last season) and gave New York 10 victories for the season, doubling their victory total from a year ago.

Red Bulls Confirm Marquez as Third D.P.

It’s been expected for some time, and today Red Bull New York made it official: Mexico captain and former Barcelona centerback Rafael Marquez has signed a multi-year deal to play for the club.

The 31-year-old joins his former Barcelona teammate, Thierry Henry, in New York, and his arrival raises a host of questions, such as:

How well will he have to play to get U.S. fans to forgive him for this?

That’s U.S. midfielder Cobi Jones laid out by a combination head-butt/kung-fu kick from Marquez in the 2002 World Cup. Really, he combined both in one maneuver.

If he helps deliver an MLS title to New York, though, we’ll let bygones be bygones.

What position will he play?

Marquez played at centerback for Barcelona, but he can also play as a holding midfielder.

It’s a tough call as to where the Red Bulls need more help, in the back or in midfield, and equally tough as to where Marquez would be more useful.

Carlos Mendes has been starting ahead of Mike Petke in the center of defense recently, but to no appreciable improvement, so a Marquez-Tim Ream pairing there would be a big upgrade.

The center of midfield has been a concern all season, as the team has never found a suitable partner for Joel Lindpere. But Marquez, while an experienced, skillful player, is not a playmaking midfielder, which is really what they need in that spot.

Who will get displaced by his arrival?

Many observers are saying it’ll be veteran Seth Stammler, and that may happen, but if it does, there will be howls of protest from the Backpost Home Office.

They’ll sound something like this:

“What about Carl Robinson?! Stammler can play on the wing in addition to the middle—versatility that should count for something—and he’s miles better than Robinson no matter where he plays!

“Robinson’s a stiff! Did no one notice how the team’s recent unbeaten streak coincided with Robinson being sidelined by a knee injury? Seriously, the guy brings nothing to the table—unless you want fouls in dangerous areas, lost possession in midfield and slow-footed defensive cover at the table.

“Grrrraaaaghhh! It shoulda been Robinson!”

But we’ll try to contain ourselves until we see what happens.

Marquez will be introduced to the media tomorrow afternoon at Red Bull Arena.