CARSON, Calif. – Those who thought Rafa Márquez was purely a defensive player have likely changed their perception of the New York Designated Player since he arrived in MLS.
Márquez is the undisputed playmaker for his team as many of the Red Bulls’ most dangerous attacks have originated from him in recent games. New York’s success at creating scoring opportunities or maintaining meaningful possession against the LA Galaxy on Friday hinges on his ability to make an impact.
“Like any player, we need to be aware of the things he brings to his team,” Galaxy manager Bruce Arena told MLSsoccer.com. “If we give Márquez time, he can make the pass that can split the defense or passes that can penetrate. … We certainly have to focus on him.”
The player that will have the special responsibility of maintaining that focus is Galaxy holding midfielder Dema Kovalenko.
“He makes the game for them,” Kovalenko said. “Everything goes through him. I think it’s my job and whoever’s around him to get close to him and not give him time on the ball. If he does, he can hurt us.”
Kovalenko will need a little help from his friends given that Márquez prefers to drift and join the Red Bulls back line where he can launch long, accurate passes into the attack — especially when under little pressure from the opposition.
It will be up to the LA forwards to do their fair share of chasing and apply pressure on Márquez in that area of the field.
“Márquez we have the greatest respect for,” Arena said. “He’s an excellent passer of the ball. He can both attack and defend. We know his quality.”
The question remains as to what type of player fans will see of Márquez on Friday. According to New York head coach Hans Backe, the playmaker is fatigued given the lack of a true preseason training camp. Backe said that this summer’s DP acquisition has 60 minutes of real match fitness despite the fact he may play a full 90.
The 31-year-old was not at his best back on Aug. 14 when the Red Bulls dropped a 1-0 result at home to the Galaxy. In what was just his second start of his MLS career, he committed the decisive turnover that led to the lone goal.
Márquez has played four league matches since then, and he's shown a noticeable improvement.
“I’m a little better,” Márquez told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “But it’s tough to adapt to this league because it’s very physical, and without a preseason, you can’t maintain yourself at a good level. Right now, I’m feeling a little bit better to play against this team."
The Mexican international would not bite as media have attempted to transform Friday’s LA-NY showdown into a Donovan vs. Márquez rivalry and a grudge match from his days in La Liga with FC Barcelona when they played eternal archrivals Real Madrid and current LA midfielder star David Beckham.
Márquez would rather focus on the memorable event that Friday’s match could become.
“We hope it’s an open game and it’s a spectacle for the fans and that they realize that these types of games show the real level that can exist in the USA,” he said. “There will be many Mexicans [at the game] and I hope to have their support, even if they are Galaxy fans.”