Rafa Marquez: Red Bulls gamble not working

Rafa Marquez.

Should Rafa Marquez be designated to the bench?

Following comments made after last Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake where the Red Bulls defender slammed his teammates for not being at his “level,” Marquez was suspended for the club’s next match on Saturday night.

And without Marquez, one of the team’s three designated players and the second-highest salary on the team, the Red Bulls defense went out and pitched a 2-0 shutout. It was a vital win for New York’s playoff hopes and it proved a point — this team doesn’t need Marquez to win.

There is no denying the pedigree of Marquez. Marquez, captain of the Mexican national team with 108 appearances for El Tri, was a regular for famed club Barcelona, one of the biggest sides in the world. Marquez signed last August with the promise of bringing distribution and vision to the midfield, but his lack of speed and mobility saw a tactical shift to the backline this year, where he excelled with Barcelona.

And the results have been disappointing.

Marquez has missed half the season due to injury or national team call-ups and now, most recently, being suspended by the team over his disparaging remarks. He answered criticism Sunday on Univision’s Republica Deportiva, saying he was misquoted. But the stats behind Marquez’s play can’t be taken out of context.

Marquez has just 1,350 minutes of play this season with no goals and just four assists. He has a lowly three shots on goal and was so bad on corner kicks that he was pulled from that duty in May, a slap in the face to someone hailed as a free kick specialist. Perhaps most telling, the Red Bulls hadn’t won with him in the lineup since Apr. 30.

There is no marked difference defensively with Marquez in the lineup. Having played half the team’s games this season, he’s been in the lineup for half the team’s eight shutouts, a tally proportionate to his time on the field. The fact that there is no difference between a defense with Marquez or without him draws serious question marks about the impact of such a high-profile player.

The Red Bulls, winners of two of their last three games, have used journeyman Stephen Keel in central defense in place of Marquez in both their wins. Keel, who last played for the then second division Portland Timbers in 2010, has won praise from the coaching staff and his teammates for his simple and direct style of play.

It’s a style which fits perfectly in the sometimes rough and tumble MLS.

But as talented as Marquez can be, can he justify his $4 million dollar a year salary? All indicators so far are a clear and decisive “no.” Simply, Marquez may not be cut out for MLS, or MLS may not be cut out for him. While he complains of the level of his teammates, the truth remains that while he technically may be the best player on the Red Bulls, he isn’t a good fit here.

The time might be coming to end the relationship with Marquez. He never materialized into the draw that team management planned, with visions of green Mexican jerseys and sombreros filling the rafters at Red Bull Arena. His midweek comments might show that his heart and head are elsewhere, and it might be time at season’s end to make sure his feet are elsewhere as well and to bid him adios.

Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.


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