Rafael Marquez to play midfield in N.Y.

Updated: August 4, 2010, 1:09 AM ET
By Ian Begley | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

Rafael MarquezAP Photo/ Mel EvansRafael Marquez (center) comes to the MLS after winning four La Liga titles with Barcelona.

HARRISON, N.J. -- Rafael Marquez doesn't have quite the same name recognition as Thierry Henry.

So the Red Bulls' signing of Marquez to play central midfielder may not cause the casual soccer fan to pay attention to the goings-on in Harrison, the way Henry has.

But make no mistake: Marquez is just as important as Henry to the Red Bulls' on-field success.

"Absolutely, central midfield wins games for you. So with Marquez coming in, it's a massive signing for us," Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said on Tuesday afternoon at an introductory news conference for the Mexico's Marquez at Red Bull Arena.

Indeed, the latest international soccer star to join the Red Bulls will fill a much-needed void in the midfield for New York. His strong defensive instincts and ability to distribute the ball are expected to give forwards Henry and Juan Pablo Angel more quality chances to score.

Though he played mainly as a defender for the Mexican National Team and FC Barcelona, Marquez said on Tuesday that he's fully prepared to shore up the midfield for the Red Bulls.

"I have played before in the center midfield so I know what to do in that position," said Marquez, who signed a 3½-year contract with the Red Bulls on Monday and was reportedly sought after by Juventus. "I'm totally convinced that this was the right decision to make. I've made this decision to continue doing the job that I've been doing up until now with Monaco, the national team and Barcelona. I believe in the project that the Red Bulls have started."

Like Henry, Marquez's playing time had decreased on the Barcelona squad last season. He sat as an unused substitute in five of the team's last six games. And like Henry, Marquez came to Harrison for a rebirth of sorts.

"I have already won many championships with Barcelona. The coach made his point at Barcelona, so here, I feel like I can play more minutes," he said.

Backe said Marquez may be available for the team's game at Chicago on Sunday. Marquez -- the Red Bulls' third and final designated player allowed under league rules -- has not played since Mexico's last game in the World Cup on June 27.

"He had his first [practice] session today after being on vacation after the World Cup so we haven't decided when he can play so far," Backe said.

Marquez, who's commonly known as "Rafa," comes to Harrison with an impressive international résumé. He has captained the Mexican squad in the last three World Cups and scored 11 times for his country, including in the opener of the 2010 World Cup against South Africa. The 31-year-old is coming off a seven-season run with Barcelona, with whom he won four La Liga titles. The Spanish club released Marquez last week, allowing him to sign with the Red Bulls without a transfer fee.

"He is only 31 years old and he is a hungry player," Backe said. "He is a piece in this puzzle to [making the Red Bulls] a really strong team who can compete with the best ones in the MLS."

The Marquez signing completes a dramatic roster overhaul in the last three weeks for the Red Bulls, who added Henry officially on July 15. They are in second place in the Eastern Conference after finishing last season with the worst record in the league.

And while the addition of Marquez's name may not bring the same buzz to Harrison as Henry's, he may eventually bring something far more important to the Red Bulls -- the team's first MLS title in 14 years.

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

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