When the Columbus Crew signed Marlon Hairston on March 3, general manager Tim Bezbatchenko referred to the new signing as a “dynamic and versatile player … (who) can provide us with another strong defensive option.” 

Little did Bezbatchenko know that exactly four months later, Hairston made his first start at holding midfielder for the Crew and proved that yes, he was dynamic and versatile, but more so than anyone initially realized. 

The 2021 season will be remembered in a lot of ways, but shouldn’t be forgotten is how valuable Hairston proved to be in his first season with the Black & Gold.

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Initially a player who could provide defensive support during a congested calendar with MLS and Concacaf Champions League matches, Hairston’s true value revealed itself when he began anchoring the midfield alongside Darlington Nagbe.

With Aidan Morris, Artur and Perry Kitchen unavailable with injuries, and on-loan Liam Fraser soon to be away on international duty, Hairston was slotted into the midfield in the Crew’s inaugural match at Lower.com Field on July 3 against the New England Revolution. He produced an inspiring performance, completing 46 passes with a 97.8% passing accuracy.

“It’s a position I’m familiar with. I played (there) a little last year when I was at Minnesota (United FC),” Hairston said back in July. “In college I was the same position. I played it a little bit (for the Colorado Rapids) when I first came into the league in the midfield. I’m comfortable anywhere on the pitch.”

He’s proved as much.

The Hairston-Nagbe duo soon became a constant for the Crew throughout the remainder of the regular season, and they both were prime examples of the possession-based play that head coach Caleb Porter demands of his players. At one point in September, Nagbe’s passing accuracy (95.21%) led MLS, while Hairston ranked second at 94%. 

Overall, Hairston finished with a career-best 91.3% passing accuracy across 21 appearances and 16 starts – his most starts and appearances since 2017 with the Colorado Rapids. 

“Whenever I can play on the pitch to help the team succeed, I’m willing to do it,” he said.

In the past four years, Hairston has played for four different clubs. But based on his performances in Black & Gold, he’ll be an important part of the Crew’s core moving forward.

How Hairston’s role changes in 2022 remains to be seen, but if this past season proved anything, it’s that the 27-year-old can serve as both a steady presence in the midfield or as a utility piece on an outside flank.

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