HARRISON, N.J. – Lazy. Overrated. Overpaid.
Those are just some of the words that have been thrown around by a sizable portion of New York Red Bulls fans to describe Designated Player Rafa Márquez this season. But none of those words seemed to fit after his showing against the Columbus Crew on Saturday.
Making his return to the Red Bulls starting lineup for the first time since July 15, Márquez shook away any remaining concern over his problematic calf injury and turned in a 60-minute performance in central midfield. That included some solid work on both ends and a beautiful assist to Thierry Henry for the equalizing goal in New York’s 3-1 win.
“His record on the field speaks for itself, I don’t think we’ve lost with him on the field,” Dax McCarty told reporters after the victory. “He takes a lot of stick from the fans and from the media sometimes, but he’s a great player. You don’t play at Barcelona and you don’t play in World Cups and you don’t play over 100 caps in Mexico unless you’re a good player.”
Limited to just nine games prior to Saturday, Márquez had reiterated in recent weeks of his desire to contribute to the Red Bulls’ cause this season, and he backed that up nine minutes into his first match since Aug. 10.
Standing just inside of his own half, Márquez launched a perfectly weighted pass over the top to Henry, who trapped it calmly in between Columbus center backs Chad Marshall and Julius James before slotting it home for the equalizer.
Maybe it was Márquez’s way of saying thank you to Henry, who has been a big advocate of the Mexican international despite the waves of criticism he has faced. Or maybe it was just Márquez refusing to be the New York’s piñata and showing what he can do when he’s fully healthy.
“Titi knows me well and I know him perfectly and it was not the first time that he’s made that kind of run for me,” said Márquez. “The most important thing is for the team to play to its strengths and one of those qualities is to have Titi up top and allow me to feed him with those kind of passes so he can score goals.”
Henry said the same thing after the match, pointing to his ability to run in behind the Crew backline relentlessly due to him not having to worry about dropping deep to receive the ball. But praise for Márquez was in abundance in the Red Bulls locker room on Saturday night, and there might be more of that in the coming weeks as Márquez continues to get back into form and in shape.
“When he’s fit and healthy and he’s motivated, he’s very dangerous for us,” said McCarty. “It was a fantastic ball to Thierry. He probably could’ve scored one tonight but I don’t think he is fully fit yet, which is scary because he can be very dangerous.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.