The Colorado Rapids returned home after a snatching a point from Vancouver, but took all three Saturday from Sporting Kansas City 1-0, thanks to a world-class 78th minute right-footed lob from Marlon Hairston to the top right corner.

It may have been two years since Hairston’s last goal, but the former Louisville Cardinal fully embraced the shot that gave Colorado its first win since June 18.

“[I’m] finally on the scoresheet again,” Hairston said. “It’s been a long time coming for me. I definitely had a lot of opportunities. Teammates helped create a lot of chances for me, and to see it go in the back of the net was kind of a sigh of relief.”

Meanwhile, head coach Pablo Mastroeni had nothing but praise for Hairston.

“Nights like tonight from Marlon validate all the hard work that he does,” Mastroeni said. “For him and the rest of the younger guys that have a lot of upside, they’re people of character, they’re people that want to get better, and they’re people that we love at the club.”

Hairston’s game winner and two shots – both on goal – were more than enough to name him Man of the Match.

Colorado had their chances to go ahead in the first 45 minutes, but Sporting’s defense held them pat, including a close free kick from Shkelzen Gashi in the 18th minute. Besides Gashi’s near-miss, most of the Rapids’ first half was spent in the defending third.

With about 15 minutes to go and two zeros still on the scoreboard, Mastroeni’s side played as well as you could without scoring. They threaded balls in and creating shots, but it was Hairston’s 79th minute right-footed lob that put the Rapids ahead for good.

This was Colorado’s third win in three tries this season over Kansas City, and fifth overall. Like Mastroeni said, it was a gritty performance from a gritty Rapids side, and Axel Sjoberg couldn’t have agreed more.

“I think if anything,” Sjoberg said, “it’s that we matched their intensity. A lot of games they win, they overwhelm their opponents. It was really hard breaking them down.”

Mastroeni has said time and time again that defense begins with the strikers, and that could not have been more true tonight, as Colorado held Kansas City to just three shots on target.

“Defense really starts at the top,” Mastroeni said, “and it’s a mentality. And I think all year long, we’ve reaped the benefits of good defending and we win the ball higher up the field. But in games like this where they’re throwing balls in the box and you’re defending off the cuff, you have to guys that are committed.”

Colorado now gets set for a showdown with FC Dallas with Western Conference supremacy on the line, but not before remembering that Saturday was certainly a performance to be proud of.

“This particular performance,” Mastroeni said, “I think is one of the performances from our group.”

Photo courtesy of John A. Babiak @photog_JohnB