UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Rafa Márquez may have missed more than half the season to this point due to suspensions, but the New York Red Bulls still see him as an integral part in their quest for the MLS Cup.
Márquez will return from his three-game suspension on Wednesday when the Red Bulls host the Houston Dynamo at Red Bulla Arena (7 pm ET; watch LIVE online), and he is expected to start in midfield for the first time since breaking San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Shea Salinas’ collarbone last month.
Where exactly Márquez will be deployed is still unknown, but the Red Bulls still see the oft-suspended player as key to winning more possession and more games.
“I still say the same thing: I believe Rafa will be a very important player for us through this season,” Red Bulls general manager Erik Solér told media after Tuesday’s practice. “Of course, as long as he is on the field he’ll do that. But he has to be able to stay on the pitch.”
Staying on the pitch has been a problem for the controversial Mexican international, who declined to speak to media on Tuesday. He has missed five of the first nine games this season through a pair of bans, frequently leaving the Red Bulls without one of their two Designated Players.
Solér and Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe did acknowledge that they have spoken to Márquez in an effort to help him clean up his act, but they would not elaborate on what they told him.
“Just a couple of chats after the last suspension, but nothing more has really been said,” said Backe. “The thing that has been said is just for internal.”
Attacking from the onset
The Red Bulls have talked all season long about making Red Bull Arena a fortress, and they will once again look to do so when the Dynamo visit.
Backe said that despite missing several important regulars due to injury, he will implement an offensive-minded gameplan for Houston. That will be a change from this past weekend’s match in which the Red Bulls deployed a defensive 4-1-4-1 formation en route to picking up a 1-0 road win over the LA Galaxy.
“I think at home, we still should be good enough to be able to control the game even if we have players out,” said Backe.
Miller unlikely to start against Dynamo
Roy Miller is back from the knee injury that kept him out of New York’s last three games, but that does not automatically mean the Costa Rican international will start ahead of rookie Connor Lade on Wednesday.
“I could do it,” Backe said of starting Miller. “His fitness is good, but normally just doing two [training] sessions, and after the team’s performances two games in a row with the first two clean sheets and we end up picking up six points, it is more likely that Roy will be on the bench.”
Keel not near return
There were more bodies than usual on the practice field on Tuesday, as the team’s injured players attended training. Wilman Conde (groin) and Teemu Tainio (knee) did individual workouts while Thierry Henry (hamstring) watched the shorter-than-usual session from the sidelines.
The notable exception to that was center back Stephen Keel, who Backe says is not close to returning to practice due to the stress fracture he is suffering from in his back.
“It’s difficult to get it diagnosed exactly, stress fractures are quite tough ones,” said Backe. “[The medical staff] said two, three weeks. It’s almost gone two, but he’s not even close to having a field session or anything.”
Backe then added that Keel could return to training in two to three weeks.
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.