Among the first pieces put in place by Orlando City's front office was veteran defender Aurelien Collin. The Lions picked up the three-time MLS All-Star and two-time member of the MLS Best XI on Dec. 8 from Sporting Kansas City, in exchange for allocation money and future considerations, which turned out to be defender Jalil Anibaba, who Orlando City grabbed in the MLS Expansion Draft and shipped off to KC.
Collin is the last man standing of the three players City brought in to be the spine of the team in December, after the club parted ways with Amobi Okugo in the summer transfer window and declined the option on goalkeeper Tally Hall just a few days ago.
Collin was literally the only Orlando City center back with prior MLS experience to play in 2015. Seb Hines, Sean St. Ledger, David Mateos, Tommy Redding, Conor Donovan, Tyler Turner, and Luke Boden all made appearances at center back this season for the Lions and not one of them had a minute of MLS center back experience before the campaign began.
The lone exception in the middle of the back line, Collin performed as advertised, and lived up to the words he uttered in his introductory presser back in December, when he said, "My best quality is my heart and my will to win. The best I can bring to the team is my will to win and to make sure everyone is on the same page. That's the experience I want to bring to the group."
The 29-year-old Frenchman played in 28 MLS games in 2015, starting 27 of them, logging 2,407 minutes. He finished behind only Kaká on the team in minutes played and tied the Brazilian for most appearances. Collin scored two goals and added an assist, with 10 total shots and three shots on target. His goals both came at home, in a 2-2 draw with New England and a 5-2 win over Columbus Crew -- the latter being followed by one of the season's best goal celebrations.
Surprisingly, Collin was offside five times this season, which is once more than either Brek Shea or Kaká, as he tried to gain an advantage on set pieces. He completed 82.3% of his passes.
Despite having a reputation for rough play, Collin finished third on Orlando City in fouls, with 36 -- less than half the total of team leader Cristian Higuita (73). On the other hand, he drew 30 fouls, which was tied for fifth most on the team with Cyle Larin. He was booked only twice all season and sent off once -- late in the opener against New York City FC, leaving him suspended for the team's first road game at Houston.
Defensively, he led the club in interceptions per game (3.5), tied for fourth in tackles per game (2), and finished second in average clearances (5.8) and seemed to win nearly every ball in the air that was in his vicinity.
It's very difficult to nail down a best game for a player who had so many good ones and only a few bad ones (ahem). Among those in contention were the home finale against New York City FC, keeping David Villa in check, and did the same in the third meeting against Montreal Impact on Didier Drogba. He might have been the best player on the field until his 65th-minute injury at D.C. United on May 13.
If not for an own-goal in stoppage time against Columbus on Aug. 1, that one might have been his best outing of the season.
In the end, I'll go with his performance in a 2-2 home draw with New England on May 8. As former Mane Land writer Kevin Mercer penned that night:
I had Collin down as my Man of the Match before the game-tying goal. Solid in back with some crucial tackles, the Frenchman kept Orlando City in the game against a very good and in-sync New England attack. Getting forward when the club was in the hunt for a goal added a unique wrinkle into the offense.
Collin showed true leadership by getting forward and taking it upon himself to tie the game (which he did, illustrated in the fantastic highlight video below), even if it did make Head Coach Adrian Heath nervous to see his veteran center back roaming so far forward during open play.
Collin is the experienced veteran presence the Lions need on the back line and I expect he'll be back to reprise that role in 2016. Unless someone else is brought in, he should anchor the middle, along with whoever wins the battle between Mateos and Hines. That said, he does come with a hefty price tag, making half a million in base salary in 2015. He and his mates on the back line will have to cut down on goals against in 2016 if he is to have a long-term future in Orlando at that price.
2015 Final Rating
The Mane Land staff gives Collin a composite rating of 7.5 for his 2015 campaign, which is one of the highest marks on the team to date and he was very close to being rounded up to an 8 out of 10. Considering how many goals the Lions allowed in 2015, this is a very high score. For the most part, Collin did his job defensively, while providing a dangerous presence on set pieces. Statistically, his 2015 numbers do not support the reputation he has among fans around the league as a dirty player, although he is a physical presence on the Lions' back line.