Gail Oskin - Getty Images
Is Rafa Marquez really such a bad guy? Or is he just misunderstood? How much of our disdain is perception, and not reality?
In a season where Marquez -- who gets paid $4.5 million, good enough for the second best in the league -- has only made 12 appearances, his stock has actually dropped even more than last year. If it was possible to get lower than post-MARQUEZAGEDDON 2011, it did, to the point where Red Bulls fans don't even hate the man. They just kind of expect the worst. A sort of apathy developed over the last few weeks where poor play coupled with questionable behavior have wore nerves so thin it's just expected he'll, for lack of a better term, suck. He's become a several million dollar monument to what happens when bringing on a designated player goes horribly, horribly wrong. The Red Bulls own white elephant.
It's all so twisted and convoluted that even when Marquez does something well and has the support of his teammates, it hardly gets a shrug from the general population. After two seasons its become ingrained. Like death and taxes -- Rafa Marquez is an asshole.
The simplest events become beaten-to-death exercises in body language interpretation and sensationalism. When Marquez came off in the 20th minute in July against the Seattle Sounders he walked straight through the tunnel into the dressing room. He was either a frustrated player just wanting to get treatment for yet another setback or it was a tantrum from a player who doesn't much care about the team, whose lackadaisical play contributed to an early Sounders goal.
Even his stint in Mexico, rehabbing what appears to be his leg became an issue. Marquez, evidently, returned to Mexico for rehab, which set off some minor controversy in the Red Bulls' twittersphere. Of course, we ignore that the Red Bulls medical staff might not be quite top notch, what with the strings of injuries this year.
So, maybe an alternative take on things, one a bit more kind to Marquez who seems more motivated by shame than anything else at this point: The Mexican captain wants to contribute, but his 33-year-old body just won't let him.
Few dogged Thierry Henry when he was jetsetting all over the world earlier this year and his last suspension was a bit of a non-issue, likely because he never plays in New England, but also because the 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City was such a debacle it's hard to imagine anything worse happening. No angry MetroFanatic threads over Henry's take on selling the sport to American youngsters (it's hard) or that the team lacks the historical depth of other New York teams. But if it were Marquez, the Red Bulls blogosphere would be all over him.
Of course, most of the time Henry is telling the truth. And it certainly helps that he's tallied 13 goals and 9 assists in 21 games this season. Its hard to argue, if Marquez was doing the same thing, we'd likely crucify him for it.
Case in point: He wins Humanitarian of the Month along with Kenny Cooper and we hardly hear a peep. Even when his teammates stand up for him, we just ignore it.
Throw this post in the heap of interpretations upon interpretations, many of which have left a mark on Marquez's tenuous-at-best reputation in MLS. If it sounds like Marquez apologist-izing, that largely depends on if you believe the man is understood. This is aided by his inability to speak English, but you simply don't get to Marquez's level without a tremendous amount of care and work and competitiveness. It's all but come out of the man's mouth that he came to MLS thinking it'd be a nice victory lap to keep him in relative shape for the next World Cup, ending his career in as the elder statesman on a Mexico squad that's looking promising. But when you're an athlete, especially an elite athlete, it's hard to just...stop.
So maybe, just maybe, Marquez did some soul searching, realizes he's got something to prove, especially on a team that's craving something more than mediocrity, and wants to, you know, prove it. That he's finally realized the millions in Austrian checks he's cashing is real, actual money and living in New York and playing some soccer out in Jersey really isn't such a bad gig after all. It's just that his body can't take the grid of a league known for its physicality, its grueling travel schedule and its competitiveness.
So every time Marquez gets the treatment, wonder how much of it is our perception and how much is misunderstanding. As usual, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, though admittedly closer to the asshole-dom we've crowned him with. At the very least, he needs to perform so someone, somewhere will be willing to spring on his salary and the madness can end.