COLUMBUS, Ohio – As Rafa Marquez took to the stage at his side’s pregame press conference on Thursday, a press officer from the Mexican federation introduced him to the assembled media.
It was not necessary. In Columbus, everybody knows who Rafa Marquez is.
A longtime nemesis of the US national team, the former New York Red Bull has had his share of memorable moments at MAPFRE Stadium, taking part in all but one of the “Dos a Cero” matches. He has certainly not endeared himself to US fans in any of those encounters, memorably receiving a straight red card in 2009 for kicking US goalkeeper Tim Howard in the chest.
He came unhinged that night – like so many other Mexican players have at MAPFRE – done in by a mix of cold weather, a highly physical American side and even maybe a bit of the place’s mythical nature.
At 37, Marquez is now staring down the barrel of his last match at MAPFRE. And on Thursday, El Kaiser de Michoacán displayed an eagerness to pen one last memorable entry into his personal history against the United States.
“We have a very talented group,” said Marquez. “Not just on the field but the coaching staff too. We want to take advantage of everything we have going for us and change the pessimism that’s surrounded these games. The team is very anxious to write some new pages in this rivalry, and tomorrow the team will write another – hopefully it will be a good one.”
Added Mexico head coach Juan Carlos Osorio, seated just to Marquez’s left: “This is an extraordinary chance to reverse history. To change the results in what has been an extremely difficult place to play.”
Osorio himself has gone to great lengths to prevent another “Dos a Cero,” analyzing film, assembling one of Mexico’s strongest rosters in recent memory and even bringing in noted sports psychologist Imanol Ibarrondo to help wipe away past results.
“We’ve analyzed covered every aspect,” said Osorio. “As far as the weather, tomorrow we’ll just wear spandex or shirts designed for the cold. The other thing, the mental side that’s always talked about – it’s no secret that we’ve brought someone to work with the club on that, someone who brings to us the possibility of getting stronger in that particular aspect and letting the players share their experiences with each other.
“And like I said earlier, we have all of the players coming into camp who play abroad, all of our best players in this moment. It’s a team that gives us not just a chance to beat the US but also Panama or whichever other team we face.”
Marquez, too, sees the value in Ibarrondo’s work.
“It’s been a plus for us to have someone like that,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s what’s been missing, but it’s one more thing for us to help us get the best out of each other.”
Fortress Columbus, though, looms large. For Marquez – a staple for the Mexican side for nearly two decades – the pressure to extract a result from Friday’s Hexagonal opener (7:45 pm ET, FS1, Univision) is immense.
“I don’t know really what it’s been in the past, whether it’s mental, physical, the weather, I don’t know,” concluded Marquez. “What we do know is that tomorrow we have a huge opportunity to change all of that. We know we have a great team, and a great technical staff. So we have to take advantage of this moment. We’ve rarely had such a complete squad, a squad that has so much desire. There’s a maturity in this squad, and everybody’s ready to put forth their maximum effort.”