Marquez relishes MLS challenge
HARRISON, N.J. -- Why now? Why would 31-year-old
"If I stayed in Europe maybe I would have played for two years more, and afterward I would be looking again for another team," said Márquez, who added that he signed for three-and-a-half years with New York through the end of the 2013 season. "In Europe with Barcelona I have won all the titles. Coming to New York is something different, something new, in a league that's growing. That's what motivated me."
Talk about a game-changer for MLS. In a period of three weeks New York has signed two big names who two seasons ago played major roles in Barcelona's European trophy rampage:
And that's where these moves will help most: the field. I'm not convinced that Márquez will cause an extended attendance spike for the Red Bulls among Mexican-American soccer fans in the New York City area, but he will bring an immediate talent upgrade to a team that already has Henry and
The process that sent Márquez to New York was a long one. "Almost a year ago I had contact with the people from Red Bull where they asked me about coming," he told me. "But it was just as I was extending my contract with Barcelona, so we decided to leave the door open for the future. Knowing that I didn't play much last year with Barcelona, we revisited the offer from Red Bull, and from there the negotiations began."
One key to the process was that Barcelona (as with Henry) let Márquez go on a free transfer, even though he still had two years left on his contract there. "The club let me go for free because there is a very good relationship between the club and us," Márquez explained.
That's good news for MLS, which hasn't paid a transfer fee for any of its major designated-player acquisitions, including Márquez, Henry or
"The days of wild spending and capturing every player they can and seeing if it works are probably over in Europe. That will provide us with some benefit as many players like Márquez and Henry are looking to the United States."
Márquez is fully aware of the sad-sack, trophyless history of MLS's New York franchise -- "It's an important challenge to be able to win the first title for this team, whether it's this year or next" -- and that players from Mexico's national team have made little impact in MLS over the years.
But Márquez should have plenty of motivation. One more reason: He told me he definitely wants to keep playing for the Mexican national team, perhaps even through World Cup 2014. Márquez has scored in two World Cups ('06 and '10) and been a fixture for El Tri in three. But he's also the source of a paradox for U.S. fans: How could a player who has been so classy over the years for Barcelona turn into a cheap-shot artist on two occasions against the U.S., earning red cards for dirty plays against
I asked Márquez about it on Tuesday.
"I think that losing against your enemy always hurts," he said in Spanish. "I don't like losing, and I lose my head easily when I don't like losing an important game. But by now this is part of my experience, part of history." He added that he hopes fans of the Red Bulls who are also U.S. fans will embrace his work ethic and efforts to win a championship for New York.
In the end, that's how this new version of New York with Márquez, Henry and Ángel will be measured. But whether it's through marquee player acquisitions or the completion of the $200 million Red Bull Arena or their signings of mid-level players, the Europeans who now run the Red Bulls are going a long ways toward answering the skepticism that foreign management can't succeed in the unique world of MLS with its strange salary caps and roster limits.
"Having been able to stabilize things mostly defensively, we've produced a team that could compete with anybody," says general manager
A successful MLS team in New York? Now
The most intriguing inclusion is
I'll look forward to learning more about the new Cosmos, but what I'm picking up so far is interesting. The "Director of Soccer" is
Byrne's role, of course, prompts the question of whether the Cosmos might be the MLS team that Beckham uses to exercise his option to buy into the league at a below-market price as an owner after his playing career is over. When I asked MLS commissioner Garber about that on Tuesday, this is what he said: "That's a coincidence. David has an option on the 20th team. That option has limitations to it. But I would not read anything into Terry Byrne's involvement with the Cosmos."
As for the 20th MLS team that Garber hopes will be a second New York team (starting play as early as 2013), the commissioner cautioned that the Cosmos isn't the only group that has an interest in owning that team. "I spoke to
And Garber's view on the Cosmos? "They've got a plan to relaunch that brand, to launch it as an authentic soccer brand," he said. "To do that they're going to need a team. Otherwise it's just a lifestyle brand trying to capitalize on the soccer market. So I know at some point in their future they'd like to be involved in New York. But we're a long ways away from finalizing anything in New York ... The brand is not going to drive the success of that club. Ownership and facility will drive it. Then we can figure out what's the right brand connection. If the Cosmos are an important part of that, either as owners, investors or as a brand, then we'll continue to talk to them about that."