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

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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.

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CCL: Toronto wins; Wild Herediano comeback

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On a single-digit Tuesday that severely limited the attendance at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where the Colorado Rapids and Toronto FC dueled in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

Jonathan Osorio’s second half goal put the Reds in front and Sebastian Giovinco had a goal and an assist and the visitors take a 2-0 decision back to Ontario.

The best chance of a preseason quality first half saw Dominique Badji flub the best chance of the stage into the feet of Alex Bono.

Toronto took the lead, nabbing the away goal through Osorio’s header of a Sebastian Giovinco cross. And the Atomic Ant got on the board with a goal of his own off an Auro assist with 17 minutes to play.

[ MORE: Georgia teen heading to Schalke ]

Tuesday’s other first leg saw Herediano and Tigres play to a 2-2 draw in Costa Rica, with the Liga MX visitors taking a pair of away goals but shocked by a pair of stoppage time concessions.

Francisco Meza scored in the 15th minute and Lucas Zelarayan seemingly put it to bed with 15 minutes to play.

But Yendrick Ruiz converted a 90th minute penalty kick before ex-DC United forward Jairo Arrieta did this ahead of the Feb. 22 second leg in Mexico.

Another American heads to Schalke: Zyen Jones

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Schalkamerica?

Bundesliga mainstays Schalke have added yet another American, this one 17-year-old Zyen Jones of Atlanta United. Jones is a forward with the U.S. U-17 national team.

Like Josh Sargent, who signed his deal with Werder Bremen on Tuesday, he’ll head overseas and sign a pro contract on Aug. 25, his 18th birthday.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Jones will join several potential USMNT teammates in Gelsenkirchen, including injured senior team midfielder Weston McKennie and youngster Nick Taitague (19). Forward Haji Wright is on loan at Sandhausen.

Report: Simon Dawkins making move to Minnesota

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The Loons are taking a flier on Simon Dawkins.

The London-born Jamaican international hasn’t done a ton since returning to MLS from Derby County, and turned 30 over the offseason, and Paul Tenorio says the player is on his way to Minnesota United.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Dawkins scored 14 goals between 2011-12 with San Jose, but scored just five times in his return to California and was blanked in 14 appearances last season. He registered just 10 shots in those matches.

The left winger would join an attack with Christian Ramirez, Kevin Molino, Ethan Finlay, and a pair of Generations Adidas forwards: Abu Danladi (2017 SuperDraft) and Mason Toye (2018).

Champions League Weds. preview: Sevilla-Man Utd, Shakhtar-Roma

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Jose Mourinho says Manchester United is one round away from having legitimate hopes of winning the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

That makes the Round of 16 tie against Sevilla — beginning Wednesday in Spain — a bit of a dream qualifier for the Red Devils.

“I normally say that Champions League dreams start around the quarter-finals and not yet in the last 16,” Mourinho said on ManUtd.com. “Last 16 still looks a long way to go. When a team reaches the quarter-finals, I think it’s the moment where even the teams that are not favourites – which is our case – they start realising that anything is possible.

The injury-hit side got a bit of a boost on Tuesday in Sevilla, where Paul Pogba, Antonio Valencia, Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera all trained ahead of the first leg.

As for the hosts, manager Vincenzo Montella admitted that he hopes Pogba won’t play, and joked that he’d prefer to tie up and “padlock” Alexis Sanchez in a bid to defend against the Chilean star.

The final Round of 16 tie to start will be Roma’s pairing with Shakhtar Donetsk, with the first leg taking place in Ukraine.

Shakhtar hasn’t played in some time, but the great equalizer is the bitter cold at Donbass Arena, where the temperature is set to be between 21 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit come kickoff.

Don’t worry, Roma fans, Daniele De Rossi is busy breathing fire into any teammates angling for excuses:

“The cold weather could affect things a little because we’re not used to it but at the end of the day it comes down to how well you perform out there. We must be mentally ready from the get-go because the cold might hit us in the opening minutes.

“If it was that much of a factor, these teams would win the Champions League every year. You don’t go through because of the weather.”