A Designated Player attacker. A highly regarded central defender with UEFA Champions League experience. And a former No. 1 overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft.
On the face of it, Sporting Kansas City’s Omar Bravo, Aurélien Collin and Chance Myers boast the type of individual bona fides you’d expect from three of the most highly rated players in the Castrol Index. But the reality is that it’s their ability to work and excel within the collective — the essence of soccer — that has both driven their team up the table and themselves up the rungs of the ladder of personal accomplishment.
As they’ve gone, so have gone Sporting.
Let’s start with Bravo. The Mexican striker, a legend with Chivas de Guadalajara, was Sporting’s marquee addition this offseason, rating a DP contract and cross-cultural fanfare. But like everyone from Thierry Henry to David Beckham, his transition was hardly seamless. He struggled with the pace and physicality of the league, picked up a red card and some injuries and was largely a non-factor during SKC’s season-opening 10-game road trip.
With health and the comforts of home — the stunning Livestrong Sporting Park — came rejuvenation and something approaching Bravo’s top game. He was one of the league’s best in July, scoring three goals and generally peppering the net with shots while helping lead Sporting on a 14-game unbeaten run that only came to a halt this past weekend.
In addition to the goals, though, Bravo finally has gotten comfortable with that rarest of commodities in MLS: taking defenders off the dribble. His ability in that regard has opened the field for the rest of the Sporting attack (which is still a work in progress) and the offense has started to reach a steady hum. They’re still not finishing as well as they should, but they’re generating chances at a much-improved rate and, most importantly, winning games.
Collin, the big Frenchman who climbed into the top 12 of the Castrol Index, looked something like a bust in his first month with SKC. He blew offside traps, lost his man on set-pieces and generally was a step behind the play.
But Peter Vermes showed faith and a good bit of insight, eventually going with Collin and All-Star pick Matt Besler as the regular center-back pairing. It has paid.
The once sieve-like Sporting defense begun locking opponents down, and have conceded more than once in a game just one time since mid-May — and that was a 4-2 rout of Toronto FC. Collin has had a large hand in that as he has become more comfortable with his back-line mates: His pass completion percentage has gone up, he has become dominant in the air, and KC rarely blow offside traps these days.
That coordination is a hallmark of all strong defenses. It’s what has driven FC Dallas center-back pair Ugo Ihemelu and George John up the Index, while the ever-changing lineups in New York have taken a toll not only on the Red Bulls’ hopes for a Supporters’ Shield, but on the overall rankings of Tim Ream and Rafa Márquez.
Collin has also made some offensive contributions, something that’s been very necessary for a team filled with young strikers who are having trouble figuring out where the net is. He scored twice in July — he’s a true menace on set-pieces — and has tallied three times overall. Each goal has been crucial.
And then there’s Myers, the 23-year-old former No. 1 overall pick. Heading into this season it looked like he’d be consigned to the trash bin of history along with the likes of Tahj Jakins and Steve Shak, two former No. 1s from UCLA who were unmitigated busts at the MLS level.
But it has all come good for Myers. He’s now the poster-boy for the value of patience, and over the past several months has become quite simply the best attacking fullback in the league (apologies to Todd Dunivant, Jan Gunnar Solli and Jair Benítez).
As Sporting have learned how to play as a unit, Myers is the one who has flourished the most. He’s now extremely adept at picking his spots to go forward, and thus rarely leaves room behind himself for opponents to exploit on the counter.
Even better, he simply doesn’t turn the ball over, which is death for an attacking fullback. He picks quality, dangerous passes and completes them at a higher rate than anyone could have imagined from a guy who was considered a fringe player entering the season.
It’s those attacking instincts that have driven him up the Index, as his completion rate in the final third is elite. He also puts his fair share of shots on target, a real danger that drags the opposing defense out of shape to compensate for the extra man marauding down the right flank. That's a big part of the reason Bravo has found so much room over on the left.
And therein lies the strength of the collective in soccer. In our game, more than any other, you can’t do it on your own. And in our game, more than any other, the best way to cover yourself individual glory is to play within the context of the team.
Bravo, Collin and Myers have shown exactly that.
Matthew Doyle writes the Armchair Analyst column for MLSsoccer.com. He can be followed on Twitter at @MLS_Analyst.