PHILADELPHIA – Aurélien Collin hesitated, then broke into a wide grin before attempting to deflect the question.
Flanked by two of his Sporting Kansas City teammates in Graham Zusi and Jimmy Nielsen following the AT&T MLS All-Stars' first training session here, Collin was pressed to make a choice.
Which of his teammates back in Kansas City deserved to be standing next to him? Who might be feeling a little left out considering the heavy SKC contingent present in the City of Brotherly Love?
“I can’t do that,” he said, before trying to save some face. “Everybody?”
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That, of course, would have been impossible. Still, Sporting are second to only San Jose in All-Stars representatives with three, a reward for a 11-6-4 start, including seven straight victories to start the season, that’s currently good enough for second in the Eastern Conference.
And perhaps no group in Philly better defines their respective side’s success than Sporting’s spine, whose play so far in 2012 inspired fans enough to garner an MLS-best three players in the All-Star First XI.
“I think Jimmy, Zusi and I are a good representation of Kansas City. We’ve been a very good team the last two seasons,” Collin told MLSsoccer.com. “That’s why we’re here, but it could have been other players, so we’re very blessed and very honored to be here.”
Of course, as Collin alluded, many have contributed to Kansas City’s three-year evolution from also-ran to MLS Cup contender. That doesn't change the fact, however, the trio are at the forefront of the high-pressure style of play implemented by manager Peter Vermes.
Collin is the hard man, an athletic and fearless center back who has taken to MLS’ breakneck pace without the usual acclimation period. Nielsen is the safety blanket, a gregarious veteran who covers up the occasional mistake when space opens up on the counter and keeps his teammates even keeled.
That pair – along with the likes of Roger Espinoza, Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler, Chance Myers, Paulo Nagamura and Júlio César – has helped Kansas City to the best defensive record in MLS, allowing just 0.90 goals per game through 21 contests.
Zusi, meanwhile, is the club’s offensive engine, combining a cultured right foot with an obsessive pursuit of the ball and a bit of understated swagger. From his place in the midfield, the 25-year-old is able to pick out any of Kansas City’s three forwards or steam toward goal himself.
So far, he’s put up career numbers (two goals, eight assists) with 13 games still to come, all of which makes him one of MLS' best midfielders and a budding prospect with Jurgen Klinsmann’s US national team.
And even though Wednesday’s game is just an exhibition, Zusi said he’s glad to be able to tick All-Star selection off on his list of recent accomplishments, especially considering it’s an indication of team success.
“It’s definitely an added bonus and it’s great to be recognized,” he said. “This is an event you don’t really put on your calendar, but it’s a lot of fun to play with some of the best around the league.”
That’s especially true for Collin, who rubbed shoulders with fellow Parisian Thierry Henry at Monday’s training session and said he’ll have a cheering section back in France during Wednesday’s match against Chelsea.
He’ll have one in Kansas City as well, as Sporting will have plenty to be proud of when MLS’ best take the field against the reining Champions League holders.
“For all my friends and all my family back in Paris, it’s a huge deal to play against Chelsea,” Collin said. “Everybody is going to watch it so more pressure for me, you know, but I’m very happy to represent Kansas City and my family.”