By JOSE M. ROMERO
Aurelien Collin is big, bald and bad. The bruising type of bad.
The Sporting Kansas City center back is as physical a player as there is in MLS, and he doles out thumpings regularly. The native of France knew from a young age what position he wanted to play, so he channeled his energy into becoming a defender who thrives on ball distribution and making attacking players pay for forays into the box.
"I love football, but I love contact,too," Collin said. "At the end of the game looking in the eyes and seeing that (opposing player saying) 'you beat me up on every part of the field. I could not score. I could not do nothing' is the best feeling I can have after a game."
But some things set him apart from his peers. The man who likes to crash the goal box for headers — he scored on such a set piece play last weekend against Real Salt Lake and did it again Wednesday in Vancouver — plus enforce in his own end is the same guy who enjoys shopping, wine tasting, museums, travel and… salsa dancing.
Collin showed off his Latin rhythm with an impressive salsa step that would rival that of the New York (NFL) Giants' Victor Cruz immediately after his goal Saturday.
"Since I was young I was into music, and since I've been to the Dominican Republic I have a lot of friends in the Dominican Republic (from) when I was 18," Collin said while on his way to Vancouver for Sporting KC's match against the Whitecaps this week. "I'm crazy about Latin music. Music is a part of my life and dancing, too. I'm not a good singer, I'm not a perfect dancer but I love the music."
Collin, 26, is the definition of a citizen of the world-slash-Renaissance man. He's visited "30, something like that" countries, and has played for teams in France, Spain, Scotland, Greece, Wales, Portugal and the U.S. He speaks four languages — French, Spanish, English and Portuguese.
He makes it a point to take in as much about a new place as he can. He'd planned to see an art deco exposition in Vancouver and find a good seafood restaurant, then perhaps do some shopping in the scenic city.
"There are so many things to see in the world," Collin said.
Collin's appetite for the finer things — food, drink and fashion, among others — have made him a hit with the SKC organization, which showcases Collin via entertaining videos in which the personable Frenchman dispenses advice a la Dear Abby. But on camera with a tan, a suit coat and stunner shades.
He came to Kansas City on a trial in 2011 thanks to some connections the SKC staff had in Europe, and a DVD of his play that led coach Peter Vermes to go to Portugal to see Collin up close and personal. He was signed a year ago on April 15.
"Look, I knew before I came that the salary cap for every (MLS) team … was more or less the same," Collin said. He was also excited about the opening of Livestrong Sporting Park and the club's facilities.
"At the end, MLS was more than what I was expecting, so I'm very happy," Collin said.
Collin doesn't discriminate when it comes to hard hits. He drew a yellow card for a foul on his own countryman, Sebastien Le Toux, Wednesday night, and can be an opposing forward's nightmare.
On the flip side, he's a dream teammate. During a preseason game in Arizona against DC United, a DCU player uttered what Sporting's Roger Espinoza thought was a racist slur in Spanish. Espinoza screamed at the referee to call attention to it, and Collin, from the other end of the field, heard the commotion and immediately demanded to know whom the offender was.
"During the game you can be pissed off and everything, but saying those things is really a shame, especially in the world we live in," Collin said. "You can be upset about something, but racism is the worst thing in the world."
Collin wears No. 78 in honor of the postal code of his hometown, a northern Paris suburb. But his mind is on the continued success of Sporting KC, 6-0 before facing the Whitecaps.
"We have the same group as last year," Collin said. "We know each other much better than last year on the field and off the field. Because we know each other better… we play with more experience because playing together for a long time, you are more automatic."