By FRANCO PANIZO
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Aurelien Collin had never taken a penalty kick in a game in his career prior to Saturday night, but you would not have been able to tell based on how well he took it.
Collin helped Sporting Kansas City lift the 2013 MLS Cup trophy on an ice-cold Saturday night at Sporting Park by converting a spot kick in the 10th round of their 7-6 penalty shootout win vs. Real Salt Lake after the two sides play to a 1-1 draw. Collin’s perfectly-placed curler that RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando could not reach despite correctly guessing where it would go will likely be the biggest talking point from the match in the ensuing days, but it was just one of many impressive ones for him en route to claiming the MLS Cup MVP award.
The 27-year-old Collin’s performance also included several timely interventions, his typical physicality and aerial dominance, and a goal in regulation that erased Real Salt Lake’s lead and forced extra time and penalty kicks. It was a pretty complete performance from someone who has been more than appreciative of what Sporting KC have done for him since signing him at the beginning of the 2011 season.
“Why I came in the first place, the coach came to me first, he almost died,” said Collin, referencing an airport in Portugal that had a reputation for difficult landings and that Sporting manager Peter Vermes had to travel to in order to scout the Frenchman. “They showed me something that I never had in Europe and I was working as much as I wanted and being in the best facilities ever, which is the stadium and the training facilities. For the first time in my life, I was in the best infrastructure, facilities and I managed to become the best player I can (be).
“I know that today I’m better than three years ago and I know that if I stay here I’ll be better in three years than today. I wasn’t expecting all of this, but I feel very blessed to be a part of it.”
Sporting KC seems to feel equally as blessed to have Collin on their team. One of the best center backs in MLS, Collin shined throughout the playoffs and came up with timely goals like the one he netted in the 76th minute.
With Kansas City trailing after Alvaro Saborio scored early in the second half, Collin came to the rescue with a near-perfect header off a corner kick from Graham Zusi. The goal gave Sporting a dose of energy after RSL had come close to making it 2-0 on a couple of occasions and sent most of the crowd of 21,650 at Sporting Park into a frenzy.
“This playoffs he’s been extremely good for us,” said midfielder Graham Zusi. “You can tell he’s been locked in since the beginning and I really can’t say enough about his performances throughout the playoffs, not just this one game. He’s a guy who has scored key goals for us, absolutely massive goals for us, and defensively he did what he always does. He’s just a tough guy to play against and I can’t sing his praises enough for what he’s done for us these playoffs.”
“He’s been big for us all year long,” added centerback partner Matt Besler. “I think just in the postseason everything gets magnified with the media and the press and the goal that he scored in New England (in the Eastern Conference semifinals) was a very big goal and it got a lot of press, but honestly he’s been doing it all year long.”
For Collin, the match was likely as memorable as any as he has had in his career. Not just because he scored a goal and converted his first career penalty kick, but because he helped his club win a championship.
“I feel very happy,” said Collin. “I just want to be in the locker room celebrating with my teammates.”