HARRISON, N.J. – There were no boos this time.
Two weeks ago during a 3-1 home loss to Real Salt Lake, Red Bulls central defender Rafa Márquez was jeered every time he touched the ball. His poor play incited the fans to turn on the Designated Player, and then his postgame comments about his teammates not being at his “level” caused the club to suspend him for the next game – a win over Portland.
Márquez followed it up with a mediocre match last weekend in the midfield in Toronto, and it looked like the boo birds would be out in full force ahead of RBNY’s match against league-leading LA Galaxy.
They never said a peep. The boos turned to cheers as Márquez, again in midfield, played a key role in New York’s 2-0 win, picking up an assist on the way.
“He played a great ball for me,” striker Thierry Henry said. “Not only the pass, he was also very efficient in closing down, like Teemu [Tainio], like everybody today. We know Rafa is a key player and hopefully he can be around for a long time and a key player for us.”
Even though Márquez declined to talk to the media after the match, with a team spokesman saying he was “preferring to continue playing rather than making any comments,” his teammates didn’t shy away from praising Márquez’s play.
“When I get the ball, if Rafa’s open, that’s who I want to give it to,” defender Stephen Keel said. “His decision-making, his quality is top-notch. He does a good job of sometimes dropping in and he pushes me out wide and then I can drive out, or if I’m in the middle, he’ll pop out wide and can distribute from there. He makes himself available.”
It was a downright rough-and-tumble night for Márquez, who played with a chip on his shoulder. From the same midfield position he held down last year after his August signing with the Red Bulls, he controlled the flow of play and dictated the pace of the game. The assist to Henry was a thing of beauty, but Márquez’s impact was felt far more in how he helped link the backline and the midfield.
And as Márquez left the field in the 83rd minute, he exited to a standing ovation from a sold-out Red Bull Arena crowd. On Tuesday night against the league-leading Galaxy, the jeers turned to cheers as the Mexican international let his hard work on the field do the talking.
“It makes it easier on Stephen and I. It gives us an easy outlet, instead of trying to find a more difficult pass or playing it wide to the wingbacks and kind of putting them in a tough position,” defender Tim Ream said. “It makes our job easier in the back.”