A Man of the Match is often defined by the player who can cease a moment and turn a game in his team’s favor, but in a two-legged tie, teams often decline to create such moments over the first 90 minutes. They those as the first half of a 180-minute game, and as such, they’re unwilling to embrace the risks are entailed with pressing for a result. On Saturday, with both Houston and Sporting Kansas City playing on two days’ rest, there were no legs to pursue glory, leaving few individuals who stood out.
But in a match that became about preserving the status quo, the man who did the most to that end was Aurélien Collin, whose clean up work at the back was crucial to Kansas City’s ability to keep a clean sheet. Whereas the French defender make his mark in attack in the postseason’s first two games (scoring in each leg against New England), today he did so at the back, posting match highs in tackles (five) and clearances (20).
They’re numbers which describe what was at times a commanding performance. With Houston pumping in 15 crosses (to Kansas City’s eight), Collin’s aerial presence helped diffuse any drama before it started, with the Dynamo only able to muster three shots on target. Collin won seven duels and was key to making sure the great service Cam Weaver saw early in the second half never troubled Jimmy Nielsen.
It wasn’t a perfect performance, but even when Collin make mistakes, he made the right decisions to mitigate his errors. In the 53rd minute, Collin was nearly beaten wide down Houston’s left just outside the penalty area, but he elected to take down Omar Cummings rather than let the Dynamo attacker have his choice of targets from the byline. It was Collin’s worst moment of the match, but even then, he made sure it didn’t hurt Sporting.
He wasn’t the only standout of the day, and depending on how you feel about Collin, Oriol Rosell or Matt Besler may have looked better. Collin, now in his third year in Major League Soccer, has a style of play many will never grow to love.
Yet Saturday was a reminder that when you take away the physicality and league-leading number of yellow cards, the 27-year-old is one of the best defenders in Major League Soccer. And after one leg in Houston, he’s one of the main reasons it’s still 0-0 going back to Kansas City.