Those who routinely read my New York Red Bulls pieces are likely aware that I usually put together two posts about a single match: One "immediate reaction" piece and then a "3 final thoughts" article that's created a couple days after the fact. I'm not doing that following New York's 3-1 victory over Columbus Crew, largely because there's really only one significant talking point that jumped out at me while I was reviewing the game.
When you score two goals, including an Olimpico, and notch an assist in your team's win as did Thierry Henry on Saturday, you have earned man of the match honors. Henry was not, however, the best overall player on the pitch during the contest. The best overall player of Saturday's RBNY vs. Columbus showdown was Rafa Marquez.
RBNY supporters who would also consider themselves to be Marquez critics would, heading into Saturday's contest, have had to admit that the guy can drop a ball into the perfect spot from the back. We've seen him do it multiple times, including this past May when New York rallied from behind while away to Philadelphia Union. For that reason, Marquez's "drop on a dime" over the top ball that found Henry in the Crew penalty area roughly five minutes after Columbus had shocked New York with an early tally hardly surprised me.
For the first time that I can remember, Marquez looked like a true designated player while wearing a Red Bulls shirt. He was, as astonishing as it may be to some, a box-to-box player, one who was physical and who played within the rules while in the New York penalty area, and also a valid attacking option who (gasp!) made darting runs down the field. Marquez shocked me so much with one such run that I actually thought Tim Cahill had somehow managed to grow during the match.
Marquez wasn't perfect against Columbus. Far from it, as he skied a free kick and a first-touch tap-in attempt, neither of which may have yet landed. Marquez doesn't get paid to score goals, though, so those misses are forgivable. If fans and analysts both are going to criticize Marquez whenever he earns such comments, than all should also be able to admit when the defender/midfielder outclasses others on the pitch.
I understand why a large portion of Red Bulls fans are so frustrated with Marquez. The $4.6 million dollar man had made just ten appearances, nine starts, and played in 667 minutes during the current campaign. Outside of the home match against rivals DC United and the victory in Philly, Marquez has largely underperformed this season, looking unmotivated and old, even downright lazy, at times. Nearly every Red Bulls fan I know would rejoice upon hearing today that Marquez was departing the team at season's end. Some would ship him out of town in an instant regardless of how well he played against Columbus.
What's done is done, New York supporters. There's no going back and turning Marquez into a MLS All-Star who routinely features and excels in matches, nor can the Red Bulls get his salary back in order to invest in another star. All I want from Rafa Marquez at this stage of his MLS career is to stay healthy and play as well as he did on Saturday throughout fall matches. That includes what will hopefully be multiple postseason games and a MLS Cup Final.
"When he's fit and healthy and he's motivated, he's very dangerous for us," said fan-favorite Dax McCarty when speaking about Marquez with Franco Panizo of MLSSoccer.com. "Motivated" is the key word in that sentence. Whether New York fans want to admit it or not, the Red Bulls are a better side when Marquez is in the team; as long as the international star is mentally into the game while playing. 60 minutes of solid play absolutely does not erase all that Marquez has done and failed to do since joining the Red Bulls.
New York's season ending with Henry passing the MLS Cup over to Marquez would probably do the trick.
For more: Marquez still with plenty to prove