KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Aurélien Collin might be the man Houston fans love to hate, but he has nothing but good things to say about their club – especially the Dynamo's toughness, a prized quality for Sporting KC's physical French center back.
“I like their players. They're strong physically,” Collin told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday, after a training session ahead of Sunday's match against the Dynamo at Sporting Park (3:30 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). “You have to go and battle against them. If the other player's not going as much as you're going, he's going to fall on the floor and the referee's going to whistle. It's a good battle, always a big challenge against Houston.”
That isn't Collin being magnanimous toward a plucky but overmatched opponent. For every regular-season success he's enjoyed against the Dynamo since joining Sporting in 2011, Collin and his teammates have also endured two years of bitter postseason disappointment.
But a victory on Sunday would be Sporting's third straight against their orange-clad nemesis – and that would go a long way toward dispelling the idea that Houston have Sporting's number, Collin said.
“If we can get three wins in a row,” he said, “that would give us a lot of confidence if we meet them in the playoffs.”
Collin became an instant villain to Houston's fans in 2011, when he drew red-card fouls against Colin Clark and Brian Ching and then scored on a long-range roller in the 90th minute of Sporting's 1-1 away draw.
He cemented that status two weeks ago, heading home Seth Sinovic's long throw-in to give Kansas City a 1-0 win at BBVA Compass Stadium and snap Houston's 36-match home unbeaten streak across all competitions.
And while there was a lot of contact in that match that was let go, there were also plenty of whistles. Sporting committed a season-high 25 fouls, to just 10 for the Dynamo – but the strategy worked, as Houston could never establish a rhythm in the middle of the park.
“Their game is to get into our heads,” said Collin, who was issued a yellow card for one of his fouls in that match and had to sit out last weekend's 1-1 draw at D.C. United on caution accumulation. “Our job is not respond in a bad way to their threats, but we have to be as physical as we can – when we have to be physical – and being smarter than them.
“They're a very smart team. They can get into your head and make you lose everything.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.