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A man in demand: Rafa Marquez

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

Finally, a glimmer of hope for Philadelphia Union.

Two goals (in the same game!), a win over a German power Schalke 04, and now a visit by a New York Red Bulls team fully infected by the Ewing Theory.

Bet you’re looking forward to seeing Rafa Marquez trot out on that field, aren’t you?

The Red Bulls have won three straight without Marquez, and what’s notable is that they’ve done it with three 1-0 wins. An unheralded back line full of backups and no-names has played well in front of rookie Ryan Meara, who has proved many (including me) wrong with his excellent shot-stopping.

But the most significant change may be the play of Dax McCarty shielding that back line as the holding midfielder in a 4-1-4-1. McCarty has had an up-and-down career, flashing enough potential to briefly earn a spot on the national team but apparently not enough to keep his name off the expansion draft list. The Red Bulls had struggled to find a place to deploy McCarty, with Teemu Tainio and Marquez both preferred for the holding role.

With Tainio injured and Marquez suspended, McCarty shined as his team was forced to play more conservatively in the absence of several injured players, most notably striker Thierry Henry. Some say McCarty is more a hybrid center midfielder, an active box-to-box type in the model of Michael Bradley. Whatever he is, he’s been excellent for the Red Bulls over their last three matches, breaking up opposing attacks and making smart, efficient passes for his own side.

Now how’s that different from Marquez? Well, it’s simple. Marquez doesn’t have the pace, hustle, or energy of McCarty, and he doesn’t halt opposition attacks like McCarty. Put simply, he plays like he doesn’t care, and the result is he’s a liability going both ways. He is no longer at the peak of his talents and gets by with smarts, technique and dirty tricks. That might actually serve him well if he goes back to Mexico, which many Red Bull fans hope will happen later this year.

But it hurts him in MLS, an intensely physical and athletic league. What it lacks in technical skill is made up for in pace, stamina, hustle, and sometimes brute force. Marquez apparently has the latter down, as evidenced by the bone-breaking American football-style tackle on former Union midfielder Shea Salinas that earned Marquez his suspension. But Marquez lacks the first three traits, all of which McCarty has in spades.That puts Marquez a step behind the game.

The key will be what lessons Red Bulls coach Hans Backe takes from Marquez’s absence. In the pro-Marquez argument, one can point to the fact that the Red Bulls were unbeaten in the four games he played this season, scoring 3.75 goals per game during that stretch. Look closer though, and you’ll see the three wins in that stretch were against very flawed teams: Columbus, a Montreal team missing much of their back line, and a Colorado team adjusting to missing the league’s toughest defensive midfield tandem (Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni).

Absent Henry and still lacking a top line playmaker, the Red Bulls are a team that needs to depend on its defense to win games. As for Marquez, he remains somewhere between a center back and a holding midfielder. Unless the Red Bulls plan to deploy a 4-2-3-1, which they haven’t regularly done this year, there may not be a place for him in the lineup.

Of course, that is, unless Backe decides to insert Marquez at center back in place of Tyler Ruthven or Markus Holgersson. Last year, Marquez’s presence there was disastrous, and his replacement by journeyman Stephen Keel bolstered the team’s performance. Marquez’s presence significantly hurt the play of Tim Ream, in part because their skills were duplicative and not complimentary, but also because Marquez has lost a step or three, a fact so widely recognized that an EPL club still acquired Ream for $4 million after his subpar 2011.

If Marquez plays, Union fans should welcome him — and not just in that uniquely Philadelphia sort of way either. The Red Bulls are better without Marquez. With him playing, the Union have a better shot to continue their momentum from Wednesday. As a bonus, their fans have someone to hate in the process.

5 Comments

  1. James "4-3-3" Forever says:

    Who will have a better career, MacMAth or Meara?

    • Peter Nowak says:

      Lionard Pajoy.

      Did you see the header? That’s what he would have done all season if the team was only as good as he is.

      I think Dax McCarthy would be a terrific goalkeeper. Can we transfer MacMath so we can bring him in?

      • ^HA, Nowak and his crazy positioning way’s!!! Your probably thinking about bringin back Seitz, seitz, seitz, seitz, seitz, seitz, everyyybody!

  2. I would say that given Thierry is out we still need to watch Cooper he has a great shot and his size is going to give us trouble he has 8 goals already and seems to be finding his place with the red bulls. Should see some nice physical play from Valdez and Califf, let the elbows fly!

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