CARSON, Calif. – One of the first times current Galaxy coaches and players went up against Rafa Márquez, the then-budding Mexican international did not make a very good first impression.
A Bruce Arena-led US national team added to its 1-0 lead on June 17, 2002, at the World Cup. Eddie Lewis swung a ball in towards Landon Donovan, who headed the ball in for an insurance goal. Several minutes later, Cobi Jones went into the match as a late-game substitute – joining Gregg Berhalter, who had started and went the distance – as the US were set to close out their historic triumph.
Márquez, who had struggled along with the rest of his team, took out his frustrations on Jones, leveling the then-US veteran with a vicious challenge that earned him a red card.
Eight years later, Márquez will go against the quintet in a much different scenario. Now a member of the New York Red Bulls, the Mexico captain will visit The Home Depot Center for the first time as the LA Galaxy will host New York in a regular-season match.
And even though Márquez is eight years older and conceivably eight years wiser, Jones doesn’t expect a warm greeting from his former foe, or any greeting at all.
“I didn’t receive any special attention while I was in New York and I don’t expect to receive any special attention while I’m here in LA,” said Jones, now an assistant coach with the Galaxy.
Along with Cuauhtémoc Blanco and Oswaldo Sánchez, Márquez has been one of the more polarizing figures in the US-Mexico rivalry over the last decade. In just his second game against the US, Márquez was ejected, helping fan the flames of the rivalry.
He continued to add spice to the rivalry in February 2009 when he was again sent off in a match against the US, a World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Ohio.
“It’s a passionate game, especially in the games we played, the Mexico-US games, it’s heated,” Donovan said. “It doesn’t excuse things, but you can understand how people get emotional.”
Márquez has not chopped down a player in his six MLS games, but he has shown plenty of positive attributes since leaving Barcelona and joining New York. His role has changed over the years — he's more playmaker than play breaker at New York — but his significance has not.
Márquez’s ability is unquestionable, Galaxy players said, but his match fitness has room to grow. Red Bulls manager Hans Backe said Márquez’s fitness level must continue improving, but the player is much closer to his full fitness level now than he was on Aug. 14, when the Galaxy beat New York at Red Bull Arena.
If the LA-NY game becomes intense for Márquez, it could be a strike against the visitors, but it could also ignite him and be damaging for the Galaxy.
“When his frustration level rises to a certain point, as any player, you tend to overreact and something that he did, lost control in the World Cup,” Jones said. “The intense emotions, it could be part of his personality. It can detrimental sometimes — but it could also be good at times.”