HANOVER, N.J. — Marc Rzatkowski doesn’t have a clearly defined position, not this year with the New York Red Bulls. Rather, he’s emerged as Mr. Versatility and, as a result, an almost lock to be part of whatever starting XI coach Chris Armas draws up.
Almost, because the German was an unused sub in a 3-0 Decision Day defeat to the Montreal Impact. It was the first time he didn’t step on the field since July 3. Perhaps fittingly, it was another lopsided defeat, that time to the Houston Dynamo.
The 29-year-old, in his second year with the club after re-signing following a one-year loan from Red Bull Salzburg, has started 26 of the 28 matches he’s appeared in this year playing multiple positions in the midfield.
While Rzatkowski would rather play than not, seeing action as the No. 6, the No. 8, the No. 10 and on the wing, has been a challenge.
“I think I can play a lot of positions. And I’m just trying to help the team wherever the coach or the team needs me,” he said. “So I’m giving everything I can, on every position, trying to get better on every position. I think it’s easier when I play one position, I can get better in this position. But for sure, I’m playing wherever the coach puts me.”
Rzatkowski said he prefers to view his versatility as a positive, that Armas has the confidence in him in various roles means a lot to him. He was fourth among field players on the club in minutes played (2,317), behind Sean Davis (2,557), Tim Parker (2,387) and Danny Royer (2,321)
“It helps for me a lot to feel this,” he said. “I think when you give me this trust, I’m confident enough that I have the quality to help the team on the field. So I’m trying to push myself to the best limit I can and help the team for sure.”
Armas is quick to laud Rzatkowski’s ability to understand the subtle nuances and what is required in each position. He also has the added value of often being the designated set piece taker.
“It’s not always easy to understand how to play in those pockets, in those spaces up the field. And he can play with his back to goal a little bit too,” Armas said. “The player qualities that he has are such that he has final plays in him. He can score, his final passes are clever. It’s always good having him on the field, he takes most of the set pieces and he counter presses very well plays against the ball and brings good energy.”
As for his preference, Rzatkowski doesn’t shy away from admitting it’s as a No. 8 when the club plays with dual No. 6’s, which allows him more “offensive freedom, not so much responsibilities with the defense.”
“I think this is my position,” he added.
Fellow midfielder Sean Davis describes Rzatkowski as “a great player, great vision, and excellent going forward.” Davis also likes to take on more defensive responsibilities to allow Rzatkowski that offensive freedom.
Rzatkowski has two goals and his eight assists are tied with Royer for most on the Red Bulls this season.
Wherever he pops up on the field, Rzatkowski will be a vital cog for what the Red Bulls hope is a long MLS Cup playoff run.
“I think I said it in the beginning of the season, I really love this character of the team that everyone is ready and wants to get better every day and train and is focused,” Rzatkowski said. “There were a lot of experiences we had to take in the season, a lot of negative things. But I think at the end, it just makes us stronger. And I think that we are ready for the most important games.”