Rafa Márquez

Márquez back in the groove on back line

UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – It turns out that Red Bulls star Rafa Marquez is a natural defender after all.

Márquez is settling into his first preseason with New York and is enjoying the preparation for the 2011 season, and he said this week that he’s excited to make the switch from his central midfield role in 2010 to a more natural fit on the team’s back line in his first full season in MLS.

The former Mexican national team captain was a fixture on defense for Barcelona and has long been an anchor for El Tri, and his vision has already helped the Red Bulls hold possession and maintain back line composure during the preseason.

“For me, it’s better,” Márquez said this week. “It’s a position I’ve played my whole career. It’s more natural.”

[inline_node:328620]Márquez vowed that he is ready for the season and is in good physical shape after battling nagging injuries last year. He even declined a national team invitation in February because he didn’t feel like he was fit enough to play for Mexico.

But now, says Márquez, he’s fit and ready.

“I wasn’t physically ready to be playing for the national team for the [February] match,” Márquez said. “But I expect to be called up [for Mexico’s March friendly].”

Red Bulls coach Hans Backe has praised the presence of Márquez as part of the back four, having called his preseason efforts “exceptional” and “class.” Márquez rarely looked settled in the midfield last year, perhaps due partly to his new teammates and his new role further up the field.

But he’s acclimated to his old spot this year and with fellow defender Tim Ream, making a duo that should serve as the backbone of one of the strongest defensive groups in the league.

“I feel that I have a very good partnership with Tim,” Márquez said. “I feel very confident.”

Make sure to download the latest episode of ExtraTime Radio, featuring Columbus Crew defender Andy Iro on the CONCACAF Champions League series and ESPN's Allen Hopkins discussing Shalrie Joseph and his role with the New England Revolution.

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