Harrison, NJ—For the second time in three weeks, media from around the world descended upon Red Bull Arena to be introduced to a new Designated Player for the New York Red Bulls.
Two weeks ago Thierry Henry became possibly the greatest DP signing the league had seen. Many could argue that their newest addition, Mexican national team captain Rafael Marquez, could be even bigger.
You could read it in the body language from the dignitaries speaking at the press conference (Red Bull’s Global Soccer Director Dietmar Beiersdorfer, Red Bull New York’s GM Eric Soler, Head Coach Hans Backe & MLS Commissioner Don Garber) and hear the excitement in their voices—this signing is hugely significant, not only to the Red Bulls on the field, but to the franchise and Major League Soccer in general off the field too.
Of course at the introductory press conference, attention was mainly focused towards Marquez the player and person. Coach Backe discussed his experience of working with Rafa before as he spent 11 months as an assistant coach with the Mexican national team.
He stated how Marquez will operate as a defensive midfield player for the Red Bulls (despite most of his career being spent as a central defender) as his ability to distribute the ball is so much higher than the league norm. He also added the Rafa man has a tremendous club house presence that will benefit the other members of the squad, particularly his younger players who fans have dubbed the "Baby Bulls".
The 31-year-old met his new teammates earlier on in the day when he practiced with them for the first time, although it is currently undecided when he will make his debut as he works his way back to full fitness after vacationing since the World Cup.
Eric Soler also added that a decision on what the corresponding roster move will be has not yet been decided. He revealed that multiple clubs had expressed interest in several Red Bulls players and that the club must decide what the best offer is going forward.
In private interviews given later in the proceedings, Beiersdorfer and Soler elaborated a little more on what the Marquez signing could do for the club off the field.
There are an estimated one million Mexicans living in the greater New York City area, yet generating interest in the MLS to this potential fan base has proved futile in the past. One thing to be said of Mexican soccer fans, they are loyal to their own.
About 78,000 attended the Mexico/Ecuador game at New Medowlands Stadium earlier this year and many of those will be looking to show their support to El Tri’s captain now that he is a Red Bull. Who knows, maybe they’ll wind up giving support to the rest of the team too? That is one of the goals of the signing that Beiersdorfer and Soler eluded to.
Indeed, one of the most interesting quotes from Marquez from the day was on why he chose the Red Bulls over the other offers he received. He believed he needed a new challenge away from Europe and would probably see more minutes on the field of this side of the Atlantic. But why the U.S and not back home to Mexico? Because he believes that the MLS is currently much superior in it’s organization and running of it’s league than it’s Mexican counterparts. Fascinating coming from the nation's captain.
Great player? Check. Increase Hispanic support of the team and league? Check. But one final question remains on his move to MLS: how will he be received by the United States supporters? Not only are the US and Mexico huge rivals, Marquez has often been portrayed as the biggest villain on the Mexican team by most U.S fans.
Reading Red Bull fan comments online, they are almost unanimously ready to embrace Rafa as one of their own and forget about his past tangles with their countrymen. On the road? “I’m used to it,” he says when asked on the subject. “Whatever they want to say or do is fine by me”.
Potential fan abuse he gets on the road will happen, assuming that it will be heard over the noise of adoring Mexican fans who step out to see him when he travels. Didn’t we say earlier that this signing is good for the league as a whole?
Whereas Thierry Henry may well be a more decorated and recognizable player to the casual soccer fan, the impact of Rafa Marquez’ move to the Red Bulls has the potential to be far greater down the road.
"I'm a happy man today," Backe said at the press conference.
He's not the only one.
Fot a highlight video of the press conference and my interviews with Marquez, Backe, Soler & Beiersdorfer, click here;