Aurelien Collin has been around the world, and that’s just since Sporting Kansas City’s season ended Nov. 6 against Houston in the Eastern Conference final.
The well-traveled Collin, 25, a French-born central defender who signed with Sporting KC last April, flitted from New York to Lisbon and Madrid to Malta in recent months. He returned home to Paris for a few weeks then hit London and Brussels before wrapping up “his holiday” with two weeks in the Dominican Republic.
“Paris is still my favorite place,” Collin said. “It’s the most beautiful, but my two weeks in the Dominican Republic weren’t bad. I was training on the beach, so it was perfect.”
Of course, well-traveled also accurately describes Collin’s soccer resume, which includes youth stops in France and Spain followed by professional stints in Scotland, Greece and Portugal before agreeing to come play for manager Peter Vermes and Sporting KC in the United States.
He was, in some ways, the least likely player on Sporting’s roster to rise to cult-hero status. It’s likely few fans had heard of Collin before his arrival, and he doesn’t play a glamor position.
Still, as the summer wore on, Sporting fans became increasingly enamored with Collin’s aggressive and unorthodox style.
“He’s just a bit out there, and I guess people cling to that,” Vermes said. “Did I know that would happen? No, I don’t pay much attention to that kind of stuff. But he’s a bit of a nut job. He really is.”
Add it all up, and Collin might also be the perfect fit on and off the field for Sporting KC, which lost some veteran leadership and must rebuild some of the chemistry that helped the club claim the top seed in the Eastern Conference last season.
“He’s a great guy in the locker room, very lively and always up,” Vermes said. “You never see him down, so that is good for the environment.”
Collin isn’t afraid to mix it up. He led Sporting KC with 10 yellow cards last season.
“You need guys who are strong and aggressive in that position,” Vermes said, “and you want guys who are going to put a little fear in the other team.”
Maintaining that intensity during training occasionally creates on-field tension, but one of Collin’s gifts is the ability to smooth things over quickly with teammates or between teammates.
“He’s a connector of people,” Vermes said. “It’s not that he doesn’t like confrontation — that’s not the case — but he wants to resolve things quickly and move on.”
In much the same way, Collin pounces on every ball that comes near goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen’s box as if its presence is a personal affront. That seems to be the only speed he knows, but Vermes hopes to see a little more nuance from Collin this season.
“He’s so much like a pit bull, and he wants to win everything,” Vermes said. “Sometimes, if anything, he needs to relax a little and not be so aggressive. But outside of that, he’s so solid.”
With a younger roster than last season and a new mix of veterans, Collin’s contribution as a rallying fixture for fans as well as a peacemaker and stress-reliever in the locker room might be even more important.
“We have this thing between him and I where I always tell him, ‘You’re crazy but you’re not stupid,’ ” Vermes said. “He keeps things loose, and you need guys like that. Honestly, he has a little bit of the mentality of a goalkeeper. That’s probably the best way to describe him, and I think everybody knows the mentality of goalkeepers.”