I’ve seen players take over a game. Lee Nguyen in 2013 and 2014. Sebastian Giovinco in 2015. Landon Donovan in 2004.
I’ve never seen a player on the Colorado Rapids take over a game. Marlon Hairston took over that game on Saturday.
First, let’s not give Marly ALL the credit: Shkelzen Gashi at the number ten spot was threatening enough with the ball at his feet, and off the ball, that he drew the defense to him. Kevin Doyle occupied the defense frequently. Marc Burch (Marc Burch!) consistently came extremely high on offense, acting as a fourth midfielder for much of the game. This win is a team win.
Vancouver was also partially responsible. They looked like, uh, the Colorado Rapids, circa late 2013, as they sat deep and pinged long, fruitless balls to Giles Barnes over and over again in the first half. Almost all of those were batted down, then got pushed into midfield quickly. They gave the Rapids the majority of possession in the first half, and often allowed the Rapids to start on the attack just outside of Vancouver’s territory. That’s, uh, dumb. After they went down at the 44th minute, they tried to change this tactic for the second half, but it was essentially too late.
Hairston, though, looked utterly terrifying with the ball at his feet. Hell, he sometimes looked terrifying when the OTHER team had the ball at their feet, so thorough was his domination in this game on BOTH sides of the ball.
Sometimes a special player emerges all of a sudden. Michael Jordan’s rookie year was promising, but he became Michael Jordan in his second year. Riyad Mahrez came out of seemingly nowhere last year to help lead Leicester to win the EPL.
Other players are great, not elite, and suddenly explode in a game all at once, tantalizing us with their ability and yet never *quite* become ‘the man.’ Jeremy Lin and John Starks, both of the Knicks, looked like the next big thing, until they weren’t. Shawn Green had a 20+ home run year at a young age, and four dingers in a game with 12 RBI. He had a great career, but not an elite one - you won’t be finding his name in Cooperstown when you take your trip with the grandkids in thirty years. In soccer, the names of the ‘not-quites’ are recalled frequently. Samuel Eto’o. Hatem Ben Arfa. James Rogriguez (maybe - he still has time to become ‘the man’, if Zidane will let him.)
The jury is out on Hairston, and will be for some time. But the dude has three goals in four games. Everyone in the league just suddenly woke up to the realization that they’re living in Marlon Hairston’s world now.
Starting to feel a little bit like we've all been sleeping on Marlon Hairston when we shouldn't have been. #COLvVAN— Matthew Doyle (@MLSAnalyst) August 7, 2016
This is the theme song. Bring your kazoos to DSGP next game, folks.
La la, La la, La la, La la, Marly’s World
La la, La la, La la, La la, Marly’s World
He’ll pick your pocket
He’ll score on yoooouuuuu
You’re in Marly’s World!
Hairston Absolutely Everywhere
You might think I’m kvelling (it’s Yiddish. Look it up.) over Hairston because he had a goal and an assist in this game, to go with goals against Sporting KC, FC Dallas, and the Vancouver Whitecaps. Well, firstly, no. I’ve long been on the Marlon Hairston hype-train, from the days when I implored Pablo just to let the dude start the game, to recent matches, when I felt like it was the emergence of a long-held secret weapon.*
But it’s also that Hairston was spectacular even on plays that he didn’t score on. Observe.
Here’s Hairston at 7’. Cronin reverses a Whitecaps possession up to Marly. Rather than settle and turn, he makes a fantastic decision to flick on - perfectly - to Gashi. Who misses an oh-so-close shot.
Here’s Hairston at 12’, high-pressing David Edgar and stealing the ball, then slotting a seeing-eye ball through the defense to Kevin Doyle, but Matias Laba slaps it away at the last possible second. Hairston did exactly the same thing against Dallas on July 23 - picking poor Atiba Harris’ pocket and going on to score. He also intercepted a pass from Ike Opara in the opponents half for his fantastic curled goal on July 16.
There’s three things here. First, Hairston’s ability to time his strike, like a coiled serpent, is unbelievable. It is a cultivated skill to time that strike juuuuust right. Second, his ability to get to corner and feed the ball cleanly into the box, or do the Marlon shimmy, ditch his defender, and score, is another phenomenal attribute. Hairston has the ice-water in the veins. Or, as Richard Fleming would say, he is ‘clinical’.
Third, this is a Pablo Mastroeni defense achieving at its highest level. He is high pressing in ones and twos with wingers and forwards, and getting chances high up the pitch with nearby attackers available to support. We at Burgundy Wave don’t often credit the coaching staff. I’m gonna. This high press (which isn’t invoked every play) is working for the Rapids.
It also works with the Rapids personnel, meaning that Paul Bravo, Padraig Smith, and Claudio Lopez looked for guys who could do this, and got them, and John Spencer and Pablo Mastroeni put the pieces together to make it all work. Gashi, Hairston, Dominique Badji, Jermaine Jones and Dillon Powers all high press well, and know when one guy presses, the others shut down the passing lanes. You’ll note that Marco Pappa has now slipped into a role as an impact sub, and hasn’t started as of late. I think that might be because he is less of an asset in a high press defense than the aforementioned players.
Here’s MarlyG’s goal at 44’, phase one. The defender (Burling?) punts it to midfield. Again, rather than slow the attack by settling that ball, Hairston one-touch volley-passes on to Marc Burch on the wing. Yeah, it’s an ugly pass, but it gets there, and it keeps the attack going. Also, that’s a hard ball to volley. Hairston does it anyways.
On to phase two:
Burch keeps going, slots the low-cross into the box hoping somebody is there. There is somebody there. It’s Marlon Hairston. Hairston has continued the run and burns David Edgar (poor, poor David Edgar); one-nil to the burgundy. Carl Robinson has a new halftime talk.
That’s just the first half. Hairston was great in the second half, too, but I always worry that I’ll break the internet if I upload too many gifs. Here’s Hairston’s assist to Badji that pretty much sealed the game. Note Eric Miller megging his defender on the pass to the running Hairston. I love a good nutmeg.
Gashi in the Middle
Gashi started as the attacking midfielder, in place of where Jermaine Jones and Dillon Powers have started before. He put a lot of pressure on the Whitecaps, taking 8 shots - 2 on target, 2 blocked, 4 off target.
He’s so good, but has had such a hard time this year actually getting it on frame. What is up with that? I think I’m like a lot of fans in wondering how a guy that scored 22 goals in the Swiss Axpo Super League in 2015-16, and 19 goals in the Swiss League in 2014-15 could struggle to only 3 goals in MLS this year.
My fallback stat for this is xG. Here’s Gashi’s numbers through July 21 (the latest that American Soccer Analysis has posted) .
Gashi picked up a third goal this year in last week’s 5-1 debacle in New York; Gashi picked up a garbage goal in stoppage time.
But before that, the expected goals metric, called xG, thought that Gashi should have 3.34 goals, when in reality he only had 2 goals. After eight shots this week with no goals, his numbers are likely to decline again. Gashi likes to shoot from outside the box, and he’s not the teams striker. That means his xG will be lower than many other players in MLS. That said, similar guys that play attacking wing, like Mike Grella, and Gio Dos Santos, and Ethan Finlay, all have more goals and more expected goals than Gashi.
In short, dude needs to score more.
Vancouver Played Boring and Carl Robinson is Gonna Get Fired
Vancouver came in and played the ball extremely direct. And boring. Which is... how we used to play opponents on the road back when we were lousy. That’s a bit surprising, considering Vancouver sit seventh in the Western Conference on 30 points, one position out of the playoffs. They have 10 points from their last 11 games, with only two wins. They have conceded 18 goals in their last 8 away games.
With Kekutah Manneh ripping down the flank on the counter, the ‘Caps are dangerous and you have to keep a fullback and both defenders deep. Without Manneh, this team looks kinda clueless. So they went long ball united. Giles Barnes was left to run after direct, over-the-top balls, which Axel Sjoberg and Bobby Burling ably batted away. On offense, there was no there, there.
The only memorable offensive act I can recall until the closing moments was a weak shot from Cristian Bolanos on the right side of 18 in the first half.
Take all that together: the offensive aimlessness, the poor road performances, David Edgar getting turned inside-out several time; along with the knowledge that the Whitecaps have played at least four different formations this year. It makes you wonder whether Carl Robinson will survive until late October, or whether he will join the illustrious ‘Club of MLS Managers that Got Fired Before Pablo Mastroeni’. It’s getting to be a big club.
That’s A Dope Lineup
People have freaked out about our lineup. They’ve freaked out when a midfielder goes down, or that we lack a great second option at forward, or that we aren’t solid at center back.
But that lineup up there? I wouldn’t mind going to a playoff game with that exact lineup. Powers looked totally comfortable at d-mid. Gashi as an offensive threat and defensive harasser was excellent. Badji did this:
and scored the second goal (scroll up, dude with the goldfish memory).
We have already documented how Marly went nuts all around.
Sebastian Le Toux and Marco Pappa and (hopefully, soon) Jermaine Jones and Micheal Azira and Jared Watts, all as alternates or bench options... that’s pretty darn good. One could even, almost, honestly call this team... deep. I get nervous writing this because I don’t want to jinx it. But I can’t help but speak the truth.
This team is deep. This team could mix and match six or seven different lineups and they’d all look really good. That’s crazy. Think where we were 12 months ago.
Pablo wore a suit? Pablo wore a suit!
No ‘Thuglife moment’ this week. Just a moment to consider Mr. Mastroeni’s sartorial style.
Pablo began last year with the mustache straight out of the prop department from‘There Will Be Blood’, along with some slick lookin’ suits. After ditching the handlebar, he could regularly be seen trodding the sideline in a more sweat-friendly set of active wear. I can’t recall him wearing anything fashionable this year... until! ->
The return of James Bond 007 Pablo! I need a grey suit, and I’d like to know A) where Pablo got that one, and B) can I afford it? If the Rapids haven’t bagged an apparel sponsor for Pablo, they ought to. Women go crazy for a sharp dressed man.
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* Note: I also thought this about Charles Eloundou, and he’s was dispatched to the USL at the end of 2015. Of course, he scored two goals this week for the Armada, so maybe I’m still right.