It was a warm afternoon in Jackson, Mississippi as Marlon Hairston sat down next to a group of his hometown friends. Joining him were former pro Calen Carr and a production crew from Major League Soccer. They’re wrapping up a shoot with ‘Marly G’ for a video series called “The Movement.” Calen turns to Marlon and asks, “What’s the next dream for you?”
“National team, baby!” one of his friends proclaims.
Marlon pauses for a second and smiles, “Yeah, that’s the dream man. I want to be on the national team.”
Fast forward a few months and the kid from the ‘sip has made that dream a reality by earning his first-ever call-up to the January camp in Southern California. If you’re a fan of the US, you know this is a period of transition. A time when young players, relatively unknown players on the international stage, will have the chance to prove they belong at the top table. Marlon Hairston fits the mold and has taken his first call-up in stride.
“It’s still hasn’t hit me to the full extent yet. I’m just trying to take in as much as possible and enjoy the experience,” he said when he spoke to us on Instagram Live last Wednesday.
“When I had the interview with Calen that was something that was on my bucket list, and once I found out about it, I think it made this opportunity that much more special since that was one of the last things I wanted to accomplish.”
In fact, 15 of the 24 players in the current camp have yet to earn a cap for the USMNT and the January 28 friendly against Bosnia & Herzegovina provides as good an opportunity as any to earn future call-ups.
“I’m actually rooming with one of the older guys, CJ Sapong. He’s a good friend of mine. He has a few caps already and he’s been involved with the national team a few times so he knows the ropes, how things work and he knows how camps are usually run. I’m just trying to hang out with him, keep my ears open and try to learn as much as I can,” Hairston said.
While this may be his first senior call-up, it’s not the first time the Mississippi native has donned the red, white and blue. He was brought into a U-20 training camp in April 2013, where he was joined by fellow teammate Dillon Serna, and was named to the US roster for the prestigious 2013 Toulon Tournament. Despite the prior experience at the youth level, this opportunity is a bit more special.
“Once you actually put the gear on, it brings something different. You feel a sense of pride right away, you’re just ready to get to work and play for something bigger than yourself, bigger than the team. You’re representing your country at that point.”
On the club side the journey hasn’t always been easy. After featuring in only three matches for the Rapids in 2015, he was given a chance to showcase his talents in 2016 where he had a breakout campaign. Last season, he was the only player to appear in all 34 matches for the club.
So, what’s the next dream on the list of #94?
“Receiving this call-up was a big accomplishment for me, but as easy as the opportunity could come around, it could just as easily be taken away so I’m trying not to take anything for granted.
“I’m just trying to work as hard as I can to become a mainstay in the squad. I’m focusing right now, putting my head down and working as hard as I can to hopefully earn my first cap and be in the squad. If not, then I want to continue to leave my imprint in the coaches’ minds and continue to receive future call-ups.”