Over the past two weeks, reports have tantalized New York soccer fans of the potential signing of Mexican-international and current Barcelona player Rafael Marquez, adding to already the already successful Red Bull’s summer transfer window. Amid the predictable and mostly pointless moans of United States supporters among the New York faithful who simply do not want to see the reviled Marquez playing for their club, there has been a feeling that signing Marquez would not address the team’s real needs and would not be the signing that could turn the Red Bulls into a force in Major League Soccer. But I am here to tell you that particular criticism of this potential signing is simply inaccurate.
Since the arrival of Thierry Henry, the one item highest on Red Bull fans’ shopping list is a creative play-maker, someone who can supply the kind of service Henry and Juan Pablo Angel would need to become what is potentially the strongest striker tandem in Major League Soccer history. While I certainly agree that an improvement can be made in that position, it is not New York’s most pressing need.
This season when the Red Bulls have been at their worst, the telltale sign of their struggles has been Juan Pablo Angel tracking back deep into the midfield to win the ball while the man who is supposed to be the play-maker, midfielder Joel Lindpere, covers the back-line. It is in that location, just in front of the defense, where New York has struggled the most this season. It seems they simply can not win the ball or distribute it from there in any way that threatens their opponent. Acquiring a true creative #10 does nothing to help this problem.
Should Marquez sign for New York, I would imagine coach Hans Backe would play him in the same defensive-minded central midfield role he played for Mexico in South Africa. It is the position that the Red Bulls need to improve the most, and Marquez would be a drastic upgrade from players like Seth Stammler, Tony Tchani, or Roy Miller who have all tried to fill the spot vacated by the often injured Carl Robinson.
I admit, Joel Lindpere does not posses the most flare or creativity I have ever seen. But he also rarely gets a chance to use those skills. The few times Robinson was able to take the field, Lindpere looked more than capable of venturing forward. Should Marquez take up position in the midfield, Lindpere will have the freedom an attacking midfielder needs to operate, a freedom he never seems to have anymore. And what’s more, he will have Marquez helping to run the midfield and distribute the ball, something neither of the current defensive midfielders have been able to do with any degree of success
Now the best arguments I have heard against is that Marquez is not truly a midfielder by trade, and to some extent that is correct. But even playing in the center of defense for all those years, Marquez was a capable passer of the ball. The few games he played in the midfield for Mexico also indicated without a doubt that he posses far more tactical awareness and skill then any of those currently occupying that position for New York. And even if he does not excel there and must be moved back to a center back position he would then become New York’s best defender.
Having said all that, we still need to take a step back. Before I convince the Harrison faithful that the signing of Marquez and Henry turns the Red Bulls into immediate contenders, let us recall for a moment just how utterly poor this team was last season. It was an historically awful campaign, and to say that Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez are the difference between horrible and championship is just silly. The Red Bulls have more business to do if they want to get up to the level of teams like the LA Galaxy or Columbus Crew. But before the season began, the two most important areas New York needed to address was scoring goals and controlling the center of the midfield. It is hard to imagine any other players the club could realistically sign who would address those needs better than Henry and Marquez.