Three years ago, Minnesota United was but a fledgling MLS club, and its first two games had not gone to plan. A 5-1 loss to Portland on the road to open the season was followed by a 6-1 loss at home to Atlanta in the driving snow and the Loons flew west to face the Colorado Rapids with -9 goal differential. A Christian Ramirez goal in the 58th minute put the Loons in front for the first time in their MLS history, but less than a minute later, Marlon Hairston knocked home a header to draw the Rapids level. In the end, Minnesota would earn its first MLS point on the day, but not its first three, thanks to Hairston.
Fast forward to today and it's Hairston in a Minnesota United jersey. The man who delivered the cross he sent in to dash Minnesota’s hopes for a win? Marc Burch, who was traded to Minnesota later in the 2017 season. The man whose goal he erased with his own? Playing in Houston, where Hairston played last season. This is MLS, where players with Hairston’s positional flexibility and solid reputation as veterans willing to work hard find themselves in demand as depth pieces. With that comes an understanding about how you fit in with a new club.
“I have to come here and assert myself,” said the 25-year-old Hairston, already a seven-year MLS veteran. He says it matter-of-factly, like it’s less about him and more a job requirement. “I'm still getting to know a lot of the players. It's going to take a lot of hard work but I think once I get settled in with the team, I can bring a good work ethic. I'm somebody who's going to go out there and give it his all every game and try to bring some pace and hopefully some wins.”
Throughout his career, the right-footed Hairston has appeared up and down the right flank for first Colorado and then Houston, scoring seven goals and notching 13 assists as a fullback, midfielder and winger. He got to experience Allianz Field firsthand last season with the Dynamo in a game that ended jubilantly for the home side and in disaster for the visitors when a cross from fullback Romain Metanire caromed off the leg of Boniek Garcia and arced up over the fingertips of goalkeeper Joe Willis in a 1-0 win. Hairston is looking forward to being on the other side of that homefield advantage this season.
“Coming here and watching games on TV, I've seen how full the stadium is and I'm really excited to come in and play in front of the fans,” he said. “Hopefully I can become a favorite of the fans because I see they're active on Twitter. I appreciate the hard love — I take everything for what it is, criticism, whether it's constructive or not, all those things help me continue to grow as a player.”
Going from Colorado to Houston meant adjusting to a team with a wealth of Spanish-speaking players, and now with Minnesota United, a mix of players from Latin America, Madagascar-by-way-of-France, Slovakia, New Zealand, Finland and even exotic spots like Ontario. Players like Hairston have gotten used to the locker-room-as-melting-pot nature of the game, though, and have learned to fall back on the game’s facility as the greatest connector.
“It's a good thing about this sport,” he said. “Soccer is a world language. It might not sound like it's English, but you know what that guy wants and what he's meaning. Everybody speaks the same when we go on the field.”