HAIRSTON’S HEART SHAPED BY NEEDS OF HIS HOMETOWN
As analytics exert a greater influence in sports and the way players get defined, Marlon Hairston cites a different sort of statistic when reflecting on the motivation behind his reputation as a Rapids player who stands out for his hunger to succeed.
They are the sad figures associated with his native Mississippi: No. 1 in poverty, No. 3 in obesity, always near the bottom in education. Analytics can’t measure desire, but Hairston’s heart is shaped by the needs of Mississippians and the inner-city streets of his hometown, Jackson.
“Not many people from Mississippi get a chance to make it out of Mississippi, and not many people get to make it out of Mississippi as a professional athlete,” Hairston said. “I want to be someone that kids in the inner city can look up to and give them a reason to want to be better, just to be a positive role model for those guys. Every time I go back in the offseason, to see kids smiling and want to take pictures, to be part of something that is bigger is myself, it’s a great feeling.”
Now in his fourth year with the Rapids as a midfielder and fullback, Hairston has proven he belongs in MLS, but he plays with the fire of a man who feels like he has to keep proving himself.
“To actually be living out a dream is something I don’t take for granted at all,” Hairston said. “This can easily be taken from me. It’s a competitive league, guys are constantly coming in, especially nowadays, more guys are looking to come into MLS (from overseas leagues) because the league has grown so much. Every day comes with hard work to try to make sure you keep that spot on that team.”
Blessed with speed and elusiveness, Hairston’s natural and preferred position is midfield, and when he gets to play there, it’s usually at right wing. But earlier this season the Rapids’ back line needed help, so coach Pablo Mastroeni moved him to right back. He played well there too — Mastroeni likes his fullbacks to partic-
ipate in the attack — but last Saturday, Hairston was back in midfield and he responded with two goals in a 3-1 win over Houston.
“Marlon playing in that position has been very interesting, because having seen the defensive side has put him in position to break moving forward,” Mastroeni said. “It shows a lot of growth on his part and a lot of understanding. I think his finishes were fantastic, he was calm and he’s been there all season. A very important performance for him.”
Mastroeni, who says Hairston’s “biggest asset is desire,” started him at midfield again Tuesday against Seattle. But the Rapids fell two goals behind, clearly showing the effect of having only two days’ rest between games. Mastroeni juggled his lineup at halftime, and one of the changes was returning Hairston to right back. That allowed Mastroeni to bring on another attacker in midfield while getting more attacking pressure from right back. It was from that position that Hairston beat everyone down the field on a counterattack and assisted on Colorado’s only goal with a beautiful cross into the 6-yard box, which Dominique Badji converted.
Hairston has always made it clear he prefers midfield, but it has occurred to him that Mastroeni may be doing him a big favor by playing him on the back line.
“The longevity of a right back is longer than a midfielder,” Hairston said. “Guys that are coming into the league (from overseas), that the league is going to spend money on, they’re going to be attacking players. I’m more comfortable at midfield, but being able to play right back now also gives me another position to have in my locker where, if the team needs me to play a different position, I am able to do it. And I’m always willing to do what’s best for the team.”
Marlon Hairston is “always willing to do what’s best for the team.”