When Rafa Marquez arrived on the shores of Harrison, N.J., and found a new home in Major League Soccer someone should have told the temperamental Mexican defender “you’re not in Barcelona anymore.” Follow FRANK ISOLA on Twitter
It would have been simple, sound advice to a player who acted surprised and disappointed that Tim Ream wasn’t the American version of Carles Puyol and that Dax McCarty wasn’t on the level of Lionel Messi.
No, Red Bull Arena isn’t Camp Nou. We all know that but I’m quite sure that Rafa never really knew what he was getting himself into. The same can be said of MLS because we all learned quickly that the New York Rafa wasn’t the same as the Barcelona Rafa. So at least we have all found common ground with the one-time world-class player; we were just as disappointed in him as he was in us.
The inevitable was made official last week when the Red Bulls severed ties with Marquez after two-and-a-half wasted seasons so he could go home and sign with Mexican club Leon. Good luck and good riddance.
Rafa’s time in MLS was marked by injury, controversy and anger. The league’s third highest-paid player never seemed or sounded happy and his attitude had a negative impact for a young club with a leadership void. While Thierry Henry embraces the role and is a once-in-a-lifetime designated player, Rafa moped around as if he was being held hostage by a growing league that gave him a big contract to play out the twilight years of his career.
Any opportunity to miss a game or travel to Mexico, Rafa jumped at it. He appeared in just 44 of a possible 73 games with the Red Bulls. Basically, he was on a three-year paid vacation subsidized by MLS.
At least when Marquez didn’t play, he couldn’t cause any harm. On the pitch, he was a plodding, frustrated bully. Last April, Rafa ran San Jose's Shea Salinas into the ground, a dirty tackle that fractured the player’s clavicle. The sportsman in Rafa didn’t stop there. He also kicked the defenseless Salinas in the face. It was a cowardly act.
He once attacked a teammate in the locker room, verbally that is. Marquez reamed out Ream for not being up to his level. On a night when Ream made several poor decisions and could have used words of support and comfort, Rafa chose to pile on.
But what I’ll remember most is Rafa’s performances in the playoffs. If the postseason reveals the true character of a player, we learned an awful lot about Rafa. Last season, he stated a near brawl in the first leg of New York’s semifinal against the LA Galaxy when he threw the ball at Landon Donovan. It was classless.
When Rafa was shown red, he immediately walked off the pitch. His night was done, his season was over and his nightmarish time in MLS had come to a fitting conclusion.
David Beckham ended his run as a two-time champion while Rafa went out as a loser. Again. But give the Red Bulls some credit here. The club saw to it that Rafa Marquez, the aging legend, had quit on them for the final time.
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