Midfielder Marlon Hairston: The Rapids X-Factor

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(Editorial) – Midfielder Marlon Hairston is on the best run of his professional career. He has started all but one league game since the start of June. He has three goals and two assists in his last five matches. Prior to that, he had one goal and two assists in MLS. Hairston has become an X-Factor for the Colorado Rapids.

Midfielder Marlon Hairston: The Rapids X-Factor

Hairston began his run of regular playing time after the Copa America break with Jermaine Jones and Shkelzen Gashi weary from national team play. The 22-year-old is a natural wide midfielder but has spent most of his time with the Rapids at full back. He’s shown that he can impose his speed on the game. He has always been good at getting out wide, running down balls, and taking on opposing defenders.

It’s the mental aspect of the game that has changed for the third year pro. The growth and development has been impressive.

After a recent game against FC Dallas, captain Sam Cronin said, “The last two weeks, his goals came from good defensive spots picking the ball up and being really calm and composed on his finishes which, in the past, he hasn’t always necessarily been. So that’s kind of an evolution for him as a player and he’s got a really bright future.”

Let’s break down some tape on that. Take Hairston’s spectacular game winner against Sporting KC last month. Hairston got the play started when he intercepted a pass from Ike Opara. Right before that, Hairston looked behind him and saw Opara’s open teammate. He looked back, saw Opara make the pass, then moved to intercept it.

Hairston was aware of his surroundings. He used that to get a sense of what his opponent would do. Then he used his skill to make a play. From there, he got the ball to Dillon Powers, made a run into the box, got the ball back, and blasted it into the net.

He did so with two Sporting defenders in front of him and another back tracking. He was composed under pressure. He then made a quick decision and executed. That play showed his maturity, good decision making, and a nice touch on the finish.

Head coach Pablo Mastroeni has had high praise for him of late: “I think Marlon is coming in to his own, understanding the game a little bit better, gaining confidence and, more importantly, posing a threat with his pace.”

Hairston showed that against Dallas on July 23rd. Colorado had been high pressing Dallas for much of the first half. Hairston pressed on Atiba Harris, who was chasing down a long ball. He was able to intercept Harris’s clearance.

From there, the midfielder accelerated past the other defenders, rounded the keeper, and slotted it into the back of the net. Hairston had the presence of mind to pressure his opponent, forcing a rushed and poorly executed pass. He took advantage of the mistake and used his speed to get ahead.

A player of his age might have gotten overexcited and shot the ball right away. Hairston chose to be patient and rounded to keeper to get a wide open look. If it were 2015, I don’t think he makes that play.

The Mississippi native proved this run of form wasn’t a fluke a week ago against Vancouver Whitecaps. The Rapids were coming off a terrible 5-1 loss and needed a win.

Hairston scored a goal in the first half, using his speed and finding the open space. He added an assist to seal the win in the second half. He used his speed to get open and delivered a perfect pass to give teammate Dominique Badji a tap in goal. He even had an assist this past weekend to help the Rapids get a point at LA Galaxy.

It’s clear Hairston has become a better player, but his teammates have also contributed. Kevin Doyle constantly makes good runs to occupy and move opposing center backs. Gashi, Jones, and Marco Pappa draw in defenders as well. Colorado’s offensive system forces opponents into a stalemate between their defenders and the best Rapids attackers, leaving room for the less-assuming players. Players like Marlon Hairston.

“On the field these guys make my job so much easier. In practice, repetition is everything,” said Hairston, describing how his teammates have helped him grow. They have created opportunities for him and he has used training to improve his execution. The hard work of him and his team has come to fruition. That’s led to a boost in his confidence which has only compounded the results.

Still, Hairston prefers to stay humble. When asked if he wants to keep scoring goals he said “I just try to be as effective as I can be for the team,” in any capacity. If he’s scoring the goals, great. If he’s putting in the work that gives others the chance, great.

Midfielder Marlon Hairston has become a glue player and difference maker for the Colorado Rapids. He’s the type of player teams need if they want to contend for the Supporter’s Shield or MLS Cup.