Emperor’s Court: Rafa Marquez – The Last Straw

With Halloween mere hours away, Red Bulls designated player Rafa Marquez decided to get ugly early.

After a frustrating 90 minutes were called to a halt, the Mexican captain would have the ball land in his arms to conclude the match. As he handled the ball, the question then became “What to do with this thing?” Like a kid with an egg at hand, Marquez did what any delinquent teenager would do this time of year; seek a target and let’er rip!

With Galaxy captain Landon Donovan once again mouthing off as he walked towards his side to celebrate a hard fought victory, an easy bulls eye was acquired. Marquez took aim and hit Donovan in the back of his calf. As he turned away from the incident, he ran into a brick house. Adam Cristman caught the DP red handed, and shoved the Red Bulls star for his transgression. Marquez responded with a Street Fighter style hook that hit nothing but air.

And that is when all hell broke loose.

Marquez would earn – and I do mean earn – a red card for his initial tossing of the ball towards the Galaxy captain. In actuality, he could have been hit with far worse. Still, the petulant, child like temper of this once great player tainted what were 90 minutes of a hard fought encounter against the league’s best side. This is yet another transgression in a list of plenty for Marquez and one must really wonder how much longer the Red Bulls will endure this kind of angst and aggravation from a player that should clearly know better.

ITS ALL ABOUT MARQUEZ

Selfishness – and that is what you would call a thoughtless act like that – has been the modus operandi of the Marquez era. Each and every week, Marquez leaves his teammates out to dry by ducking the press. Since Empire broke Rafa’s damning comments about his teammates and, in particular, Tim Ream, the Red Bulls midfielder has refused to speak to the press in his own version of “infantile” behavior. Instead of facing the music, the veteran opts to leave his teammates – including buddy Thierry Henry – in the line of fire to answer questions on his behalf without so much as a consideration for the position he is putting them in.

That has been Marquez all season long, and his self centered world extends well beyond the dimensions of the pitch. Earlier this season, he referred to his tenure in New York as a “step down” that will enable him to “preserve” his game enough to make one more run at the 2014 World Cup, sounding as if he is using Major League Soccer to keep him warmed up for the Mexican National Team. He has taken ill advised challenges all year long, putting his team behind the eight ball on several occasions. Though he has featured in less than two thirds of the teams fixtures, Marquez has picked up six yellow cards, good for second on the team. That alone speaks volumes.

What is going on with this player? If one watches his performances on the International scene, most recently against Brazil, Marquez has been masterful. Why the disconnect? Well, sources within the team speculate the anger stems from his usage under head coach Hans Backe. From the early season shift into center back and his dismissal from set piece and corner kick duties, the Mexican captain carried a grudge onto the pitch like a rebellious child.

In a move to mend fences, or perhaps to appease their multimillion dollar talent, Marquez once again began to feature in the midfield and set pieces after he completed a team suspension for his damning comments after the RSL match. Though his performances have improved since, yesterdays infraction is proof once more that he has clearly not learned his lesson.

Did he have reason to be frustrated? You bet. Marquez lead all Red Bull players with five strikes on net, and his disappointment with each stray shot was palpable. He tried to create a connection through the middle of the pitch to the strikers, but was continuously stifled by Juninho and Beckham before he could get a threat off. To make matters worse, his long time U.S. National Team nemesis Landon Donovan was busy “jawing” with him towards the end of the game; a fact substantiated by several Red Bull players post game. All of this, compounded by a lackluster season that has seen the Mexican legend gather only 5 assists in 19 games, while earning 6 yellow cards and 26 fouls (or a team high 1.4 fouls committed per game), and you have a recipe for eruption.

In one out of control act, Marquez managed to embarrass his team and himself … twice. His first infraction was the classless strike at Donovan’s leg, but second, and perhaps more cringe worthy, was his phantom fall in the midst of an all out, bench clearing brawl …

Image Credit: Dan McQuade

Say what you will about Thierry Henry; clearly, the Red Bulls captain and fellow designated player has let his temper get the best of him more than once this season. One need only look at a very questionable collision with Roger Espinoza at Livestrong Park to make a damning case against him. However, the French legend owns up to his infractions and has been able to mask his routine fouls with a bonanza of goals, individual brilliance and leadership that more than make up for his transgressions.

What has Marquez brought to the table?

Now, a wafer thin bench will become that much weaker when the Red Bulls face Los Angeles on the road in the second leg of this home and home series. If New York are fortunate enough to battle their way into the next round, a message needs to be sent. There is no reason to show deference to a player that doesn’t reciprocate the respect deserved to his teammates. At the very least, Marquez should be benched for the remainder of the playoffs, and perhaps beyond. And once this season is over, Red Bull would be wise to revisit their commitment to the once great Barcelona star. The monetary hit may be a bit much to take, but removing the headaches and drama that come with his presence would be priceless.

In the end, one is only left to wonder whether the Mexican star feels his throw and subsequent red card were all worth it. Of course, only Rafa Marquez could answer that question … and he isn’t talking.