Rafa Marquez is on no one's short list of MLS MVP candidates. The New York Red Bulls center back has only played about half of his team's available minutes, contributing just four assists, and his team is in the midst of what has so far been a highly disappointing season.
What started with people wondering aloud if the Red Bulls had assembled the greatest collection of talent in MLS history has unraveled to the point that missing the playoffs has become a very real possibility. If the regular-season ended today, in fact, the Red Bulls would be on the outside looking in. Even if the Red Bulls somehow manage to turn their season around, this season has clearly not gone according to plan.
At the center of this wayward season has been Marquez. At least that's how Red Bulls fans seem to be looking at it, as they booed their Designated Player almost every time he touched the ball during Wednesday's 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake. While Marquez did not commit the night's biggest gaffe -- that clearly belonged to Tim Ream who almost literally gifted the visitors a goal -- but he hardly did anything to win himself any good will among the faithful.
After the game, he sounded very much like a player who was tired of the criticism, although he conveniently denied that he even heard the boos, let alone admitting that they got to him. In the process of telling Empire of Soccer that he actually thought he was playing pretty well, he made it clear that he didn't think his teammates were meeting his level of excellence. He even called one of them out by name:
"Tim is still a young player with a lot to learn," he said. "He still has quite a lot to learn, and well, he has committed errors that are very infantile and cost us goals."
Now, I've covered a fair amount of high-level sports in my day. I'm not sure that I've ever seen a player throw a teammate under the bus quite like that. For the life of me, I can't imagine how Marquez thinks a comment like that can do anything but turn an already hostile fanbase even further against him. More importantly, it seems highly unlikely that this will help improve the Red Bulls' defense.
While that defense clearly has room for improvement -- just four teams have allowed more goals than the Red Bulls' 41 -- the numbers suggest that Marquez is at least an equal part in those struggles. In fact, it's somewhat remarkable how little impact Marquez has had on the Red Bulls.
Marquez has played 1,350 minutes this season, and the Red Bulls have allowed 20 during that time. In the 1,260 minutes Marquez has not played, the Red Bulls have allowed, wait for it, 20 goals. Not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, but we're talking about a difference of 90 minutes.
But Marquez wasn't necessarily supposed to be a shutdown center back. The converted defensive midfielder was supposed to have the kind of passing skills that kind jumpstart the offense from the backline. Sure, Marquez has delivered a few nifty passes, but the overall picture is not nearly as kind.
With Marquez on the field, the Red Bulls have scored 23 goals. Not necessarily a bad figure, considering it has come in just 15 games. In 14 games without Marquez, though, the Red Bulls have still managed to score 21 goals.
The overall picture actually makes the Red Bulls' recent performance with Marquez on the field look considerably better. In Marquez's last nine games, the Red Bulls are a collective -6 in goal difference. Marquez has not even played in a Red Bulls victory since April 30.
In the 13 games the Red Bulls have played without Marquez since April 30, they have managed to post a +1 goal-difference. More tellingly, they've gone 3-2-8. That's not exactly a great record but it is considerably more impressive than the 0-3-6 record they've compiled with Marquez over the same span of time.
None of this is meant to imply that the Red Bulls are better off without Marquez on the field. But for a player who's being paid more than the entire payroll of 15 of the league's 18 teams, he should clearly be providing more than a neutral impact.
Obviously, at least part of why the Red Bulls signed Marquez was for the public relations aspect of it. With the Red Bulls often playing in front of a half-empty stadium, it doesn't appear he's even having a positive effect in that sense. Now that the fans appear to have actively turned against him, the reasons for keeping him around are quickly running out. Maybe he sees that, which made him feel comfortable saying what he did. Clearly, this gamble has not paid off for the Red Bulls. It's probably time they cut their losses and move on.
For more on the Red Bulls and to get a sense of just how frustrated their fan base has become, be sure to check out Once a Metro.