Skip to content

Underrated man for Sporting Kansas City: Is it really Aurélien Collin?

Dec 6, 2013, 7:00 PM EDT

Sporting Kansas City defender Aurelien Collin opened the scoring in the 42nd minute, pulling his side even in the series. (Photo: AP.) AP

Three years in the spotlight has given us plenty of time to appreciate Sporting Kansas City’s talents, from now-United States regulars Graham Zusi and Matt Besler to the previously under-appreciated Seth Sinovic and Chance Myers. Trying to explain this team’s success season-over-season, we’ve been able to detail everyone’s virtues, with even a relative new guy like Benny Feilhaber getting some time in the spotlight after his postseason resurgence.

Through that time, however, it’s become difficult to get a grasp on French defender Aurélien Collin, with the nature of his game making it almost impossible to have a rational conversation about him. Some see his league-leading 13 yellow cards and penchant for borderline play and theatrics as mitigating the quality he brings to the field. Others see those as distractions, red herrings that fans choose to latch on to rather than acknowledge him as one of the league’s best defenders.

The discussion is so polarized, it’s near-impossible to get at the truth. At times, Collin is Sporting Kansas City’s best defender, his instincts and physicality allowing him to dominate a game the way his partner, the more heralded Matt Besler, can’t. Crudely, Collin imposes where Besler controls, the aggression that often gets him into trouble making him the league’s best defender in isolated spurts.

But that aggression can also take him out of games. Instead of being dominant, he can be destructive, those 13 yellow cards three more than any other player in Major League Soccer. In three seasons in Kansas, Collin’s drawn 29 yellow cards, forcing him to miss a number of matches with accumulation suspensions. While his lack of red cards (one in three years) hints he knows how to tone it down, the time he misses with collected cautions hurts his team. That can’t be ignored.

Those discipline issues haven’t been a problem this postseason, however. In four playoff games, the Kansas City central defender has more goals (two) than cards (one). His worst traits in check, Collin has been Sporting’s best defender in the playoffs. If he hasn’t been the team’s best player overall, he’s possibly been their most consistent game-to-game, even if his bad side came out a little in leg one against Houston.

source: Getty Images

In addition to being one of Kansas City’s best defender this postseason, Aurélien Collin (left) is the only Sporting players to score multiple goals, his two scores against New England tied for first among defenders in the playoffs. (Source: Getty Images.)

But perhaps this postseason proves the detractors’ point. If Collin can just keep his focus on defending and forgo the dark arts, he can be one of Major League Soccer’s best center backs. There’s no question about it. Given Kansas City’s consistently been among the league’s best defenses since his 2011 arrival, there’s ample evidence to illustrate the point.

But imagine how much better he would be if he didn’t insist on pushing the boundaries between dominant and dirty? Often, we can’t let it go.

The mistake we make, however, is thinking it’s either-or. Collin can be dirty and great at the some time, but because we hate rewarding players who practice those dark arts, there’s a reticence to fully acknowledge what he brings to the team. His strength in the air, decisiveness stepping into midfield, and ability to impose himself on the other team’s attack get ignored. It’s as if we think admitting Collin is one of the league’s best defenders somehow condones how he goes about it.

That’s why he’s so underrated. That ethical dilemma we embrace every time we discuss Collin gets in the way of acknowledging his value. With a better reputation, he may have been a contender for this year’s Defender of the Year award. As is, he’s just the man in the black hat.

On Saturday, however, that reputation won’t matter. When the first whistle blows, our ethical qualms become irrelevant. All that matters is his ability to help contain Álvaro Saborío.

He may play the villain in match previews and on social media, but on Saturday, Collin will go back to being one of the best defenders in Major League Soccer – one of the most underrated players in Sporting’s XI.

MORE ProSoccerTalk MLS CUP COVERAGE

  • Real Salt Lake

Report says Jason Kreis on sure track to take NYCFC job; the RSL manager just frowns

Looking back on RSL’s top moment as a club, the 2009 MLS Cup

Real Salt Lake in 2013: the “not-so-rebuilding” year

Looking back on 2013: Talking through Real Salt Lake’s path to MLS Cup

  • Sporting Kansas City

What we learned as SKC dispatched Houston in the Eastern finals

Sporting KC’s new way; the team is far more versatile today

MLS Cup 2000 flashback: Meola, Molnar and the SKC heroes

The Benny Feilhaber conundrum; has Peter Vermes finally cracked the code?

Notes from Sporting Kansas City’s Thursday press conference

Sporting Kansas City’s key players

Sporting’s underrated man: Is it Aurélien Collin?

  • Team versus team

MLS Cup positional edges: Goalkeepers

MLS Cup positional edges: Defenses

MLS Cup positional edges: Midfields

MLS Cup positional edges: Forwards

  • MLS Cup general

MLS Cup will close banner 2013 season for Sporting Park

MLS Cup first: manager who are both former players in the league

Debunking the myth of Sporting KC, Real Salt Lake as bitter rivals

MLS Cup history: the three best finals yet

Looking at how the playoff format worked in 2013

  1. winorlose6burgh - Dec 6, 2013 at 7:35 PM

    This ain’t football

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

Featured video

FIRED: Where David Moyes went wrong