COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It had to be Rafa Márquez.
On a night where the Mexican national team finally vanquished their demons, ending nearly fifteen years of frustration at MAPFRE Stadium, there was only ever going to be one hero for El Tri.
It was going to be Marquez, perhaps the most reviled player in Mexican national team history – to US national team fans, at least.
Minutes from the death, he found himself almost comically unmarked at the near post. With one deft flick of his head, el Kaiser de Michoacán sent shockwaves through MAPFRE Stadium and singlehandedly wrote a new chapter in his side’s longest, bitterest rivalry.
It was likely his last chance to do so. At 37, Marquez has been a staple for the Mexican national team for two decades. He has captained them in four World Cups and won a pair of Gold Cups to boot.
But there are also memories that are a little less pleasant – he was also the only player on Mexico’s roster Friday evening who had participated in three out of four “Dos a Cero” matches in Columbus.
Friday’s “Dos a Uno” will likely help push those memories away for good.
“I was happy to have the opportunity to make some new history tonight,” Marquez told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “We have to keep striving to get better, the second half was difficult for us – they had us a little pinned back at times.
“This is more than just a reward [for me], it’s for the entire team.”
Mexico head coach Juan Carlos Osorio was effusive in his praise of Marquez, painting him out as a national treasure.
“Rafael Marquez is, to the Mexicans, sort of what Peter Schmeichel was for the people of Denmark,” Osorio told MLSsoccer.com. “I’ve been involved in the retirement of too many of that type of players – Steve McManaman at Manchester City, for example. One thing that I recall is that they were all very professional.
“But Rafael has a love for the game like nobody else. He always trains the best he can, considering his age even he wants to play every game. So today I think the football – the game itself – rewarded him. And I’m very pleased for him, very, very happy for him.”
Marquez mostly spoke after the match about Mexico’s next encounter, a crucial qualifier at Panama next week. It will be his 138th cap. But buried in a slew of boilerplate answers in English and Spanish alike, there was one little detail that may be of interest to US fans.
Asked whether this was his last game in Columbus, Marquez copped a wry smile.
“Puede Ser,” Marquez said. “It could be.”