CHESTER, Pa. – Rafa Márquez had not played a competitive game in nearly a month, but that didn't stop him from playing an important role in the New York Red Bulls’ comeback win over the Philadelphia Union on Sunday.
Playing in his first match since serving a three-match suspension for a foul on San Jose Earthquakes' midfielder Shea Salinas April 14, Márquez helped the Red Bulls turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 win against a 10-man Philadelphia side at PPL Park. The Designated Player added an element to the Red Bulls’ game that had been missing in recent weeks, and head coach Hans Backe was quick to point it out after the match.
WATCH: Márquez sets up winner
“We got a little bit more possession today,” Backe told reporters during his postgame press conference. “We could breathe sometimes even if we lost possession in the first half too quick.”
Márquez was not always accurate with his passes, but he did manage to make the Red Bulls look a more dangerous side in the attack. Whereas in the last few weeks New York combined gritty defending and opportunistic scoring to pull out wins, the victory over their southern rivals came more as a result of the Red Bulls’ ability to hold onto the ball and build up attacks.
That was particularly the case in the second half when Márquez was shifted from the lone defensive midfield spot in a 4-1-3-2 formation to center back. There, Márquez helped set up the winning goal in the 78th minute when he picked out Kenny Cooper, hitting a ball over the top that allowed the forward to break in on goal.
“I thought he was great, especially in the second half,” said Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara. “He really controlled the game and picked out some passes that only he can do. We’re happy to have him back, definitely.”
While that pass from Márquez and Cooper’s subsequent finish were the difference in the match that lifted the Red Bulls to first place in the Eastern Conference, Backe believes Márquez’s overall contributions, especially in defense, were essential in the team picking up their third win in eight days.
“We get a little bit more composed, we get a little bit more confident to play out from the back four,” said Backe. “In the second half when we got Rafa [in the] back we got more precise in our passing game.
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.