The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By John Meyer

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.”

Daniel Bren­ner, Spe­cial to The Den­ver Post

Mar­lon Hairston is “al­ways will­ing to do what’s best for the team.”

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