BARCELONA, Spain – Rafael Marquez was released Saturday from the final two seasons of his contract with Barcelona, a move that allowed the 31-year-old Mexican defender to join former teammate Thierry Henry with Major League Soccer's New York Red Bulls.
The Spanish champions announced the agreement with Marquez, whose contract had been scheduled to run through June 2012. Hours later, the Red Bulls scheduled a Tuesday news conference to announce the signing of a star player, without saying who it was.
Marquez didn't say where he would sign, although his talks with the Red Bulls have been common knowledge in soccer circles. His release allows him to sign with New York without a transfer fee.
"We're analyzing the options that we have and we'll see what works best," Marquez said.
A farewell ceremony was held Saturday at Camp Nou.
"One of the our team's reference points leaves Barcelona to start a new stage," team president Sandro Rosell said. "Rafa Marquez has been a key player for our last two coaches."
Since arriving from Monaco in 2003, Marquez helped Barcelona win two Champions League titles, four Spanish league championships, a European Supercup and a Copa del Rey trophy. He said a lack of playing time last season clinched his decision.
"I could have stayed and played less, but that's not my character," Marquez said. "At this moment the coach believes in other players, and I thought it was the adequate moment to go."
Marquez, who also plays in central midfield, had 13 goals in 242 matches with the Catalan club. He has 11 goals in 94 appearances for Mexico and was El Tri's captain at the World Cup, where he scored against South Africa.
Henry left Barcelona to sign with the Red Bulls earlier in the month, and the French forward was set to make his MLS debut Saturday night at Houston.