Rapids roll with Hairston’s help


The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By John Meyer

COM­MERCE CITY» The Rapids fin­ished sec­ond in the West­ern Con­fer­ence last sea­son and be­gan Satur­day’s game in last place, where they have spent most of this sea­son. The Hous­ton Dynamo has done the re­verse, fin­ish­ing last in 2016 and en­ter­ing Satur­day’s con­test tied for sec­ond.

But the Rapids got out of the con­fer­ence cel­lar with an easy and en­ter­tain­ing 3-1 win over the Dynamo with Mar­lon Hairston scor­ing twice, giv­ing them some mo­men­tum go­ing into Tues­day’s an­nual Fourth of July cel­e­bra­tion against Seat­tle, the reign­ing MLS Cup cham­pion. It was Colorado’s fifth win in the last six home games.

Hairston’s best po­si­tion is in mid­field, but coach Pablo Mas­troeni moved him to right back for much of the sea­son to shore up a shaky back line. Mas­troeni put him back in mid­field Satur­day and it paid big div­i­dends, aided by the play of striker Do­minique Badji, who at­tracted de­fend­ers with his speed and cre­ated space for oth­ers.

“I just tried to stretch the back line as much as I could and try to run in be­hind,” Hairston said. “Credit to Badji, his hold up play was great tonight. Ev­ery game we play, we know his pace is go­ing to be a threat to op­pos­ing de­fenses. Lately I’ve been play­ing full back, try­ing to help this team get some re­sults, but it’s good to be back play­ing higher up the field.”

Mas­troeni un­veiled an in­trigu­ing new mid­field con­fig­u­ra­tion, de­ploy­ing Hairston and Dil­lon Serna as wingers with Nana Boateng at­tack­ing from the mid­dle and Mo­hammed Saeid cov­er­ing be­hind. Many Rapids watch­ers have been ea­ger to see Boateng and Saeid on the field to­gether be­cause their phys­i­cal qual­i­ties and vi­sion would seem to com­ple­ment each other, but they had not played with each other be­fore. In fact, after com­ing to the Rapids in a trade, Saeid made his Rapids de­but sub­sti­tut­ing for Boateng when Boateng was in­jured against Real Salt Lake in April, break­ing three lum­bar ver­te­brae. Boateng sub­se­quently missed 10 games.

On Colorado’s first goal, Saeid found Badji, who passed off to Serna at­tack­ing the left wing. Serna made a per­fect cross to Kevin Doyle, who scored his fourth goal of the sea­son in the 21st minute.

After Hous­ton equal­ized in first-half stop­page time on a goal by Erick Tor­res, Mas­troeni wanted his team to come out “bright” in the sec­ond half to put pres­sure on Hous­ton with the ball and, when Hous­ton had pos­ses­sion, win the ball higher up the field be­cause pas­siv­ity with­out the ball late in the first half gave Hous­ton scor­ing chances.

The Rapids quickly got the goal they needed to take com­mand, Badji get­ting free on a coun­ter­at­tack with Hous­ton press­ing for­ward, pulling goal­keeper Joe Wil­lis out of his goal and cross­ing a ball which Hairston put away at the goal line in the 49th minute. Hairston tal­lied again on an­other coun­ter­at­tack in the 70th minute, the Rapids tak­ing only 14 sec­onds to move the ball from goal­keeper Tim Howard to Doyle, then Badji and back to Doyle, who set up Hairston for a loop­ing shot over Wil­lis.

The first half of the sea­son has been a dis­ap­point­ment for Rapids fans, but now the team seems to be play­ing with some con­fi­dence.

“We’re a team you don’t want to mess with right now,” Badji said. “We’re def­i­nitely pick­ing up some steam, we’re a team that’s go­ing to be scor­ing goals, that’s go­ing to be a threat and not con­ced­ing a lot of goals. We’re def­i­nitely a team no­body wants to match up against.” John Meyer: jmeyer@den­ver­post.com or @john­meyer

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