KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Aurélien Collin has only been in Kansas City for five short months, but he’s had visions of America dancing in his head ever since he can remember.
Growing up in a rough neighborhood in Paris, Collin was raised on a strict regimen of American pop culture. Tupac, Nas, Dr. Dre and the Notorious B.I.G. dominated the airwaves, and American cinema and television indoctrinated France’s younger generations on the way of life in the United States.
“My friends and I were into hip hop and rap, so I was always into American music, style and everything,” Collin said. “I grew up with the American dream in my head.”
That dream was so prevalent that Collin nearly made the jump across the pond seven years before Sporting Kansas City signed the 25-year-old central defender from Portuguese club Vitória Setubal this April.
Collin was plying his trade as a youth player with French club Sedan and still waiting to sign his first professional contract in 2004 when an opportunity to leave Europe and continue his career at Virginia Commonwealth University nearly changed the course of his life.
“I got in touch with VCU,” he said. “I was very close to going there to study and play soccer. I didn’t because another team offered me a professional contract when I was 18, but I’ve thought about [coming to the US] a lot throughout my career.”
Never one to stay in one place for too long – Collin’s career also took him to Spain, Greece, England – when Sporting manager Peter Vermes came to Portugal to scout Collin last year, the chance to finally jump across the Atlantic and come stateside seemed a little like destiny.
Collin’s athleticism, physicality and competitiveness stood out enough to prompt Vermes to invest months negotiating what became a complicated transfer. And once Collin finally arrived in Kansas City, Vermes declared the Frenchman a perfect fit for MLS and immediately inserted him in the starting lineup.
Although Collin’s debut in America wasn’t anywhere close to perfect – he received an erroneous red card against New England that was later rescinded – Collin has only improved since arriving in Kansas City.
He’s started 19 games for Vermes, forming an effective partnership with Matt Besler in central defense, and scored three goals, including a game-tying strike in the closing minutes against the Houston Dynamo in July. Just as importantly, he’s integrated himself into the team, breaking down any and all barriers with his loud personality, sense of humor and love of all things American.
“He’s a character, for sure,” Besler said. “It was refreshing. A lot of foreign guys come in and really don’t interact with anybody just because it’s so unfamiliar. They don’t try to speak English and keep to themselves. There was none of that. From day one, he was so eager to learn more about American culture.”
Harking back to his younger days in Paris, Collin has absorbed as much as he can since arriving in the United States six months ago, going so far as to pursue his green card.
He routinely spends the day after road games exploring whatever city in which Kansas City played. Last weekend, Collin ventured out into wine country in Napa Valley and the streets of San Francisco after putting in 90 solid minutes against the San Jose Earthquakes.
Predictably, he loves the big city vibe in place like Los Angeles and New York City, but it’s in Kansas City that he’s managed to truly make his mark.
“My passion is soccer and, at the same time, being somewhere I love,” Collin said. “I’m here, and I feel very good. I’m very happy.”
Now fully integrated in the squad and healthy following a serious back injury, Collin is eager to continue making an impact in MLS as Sporting Kansas City fight to solidify their place in the playoffs.
It helps that he feels right at home.