Center back Aurélien Collin has been an integral part of his teams' defenses ever since arriving in MLS back in 2011. For Sporting Kansas City he featured in three MLS All-Star Games, garnered league Best XI selections twice and was named the MLS Cup MVP in 2013. When Orlando City acquired the defender ahead of its inaugural MLS season, the club had intentions of building its young, unproven back line around the Frenchman.
In 2015, that's exactly how it played out.
Collin featured in 28 league games for City last season and, other than a few stretches in which he battled a recurring hamstring issue, he proved to be a steady, reliable presence in the Lions defense. Collin's experience and leadership qualities instantly made him chief of the back line, marshalling his young running mates even while trying to establish a center back partner early in the year.
While Orlando's goals allowed figure was not good in '15, Collin was a clear leader and figured to be a mainstay in the team sheet once again heading into the preseason in '16. However, in City's last two preseason friendlies – against Jacksonville Armada and New York Red Bulls, respectively – Collin has not appeared in the first XI alongside many of the club's projected starters.
In both matches, manager Adrian Heath elected to run with David Mateos and Seb Hines as his starting center back pairing, with Collin coming off the bench around the hour mark in Jacksonville and featuring more in Orlando City B's scrimmage against Toronto FC than he did with the first team against NYRB.
Is this simply a case of an established veteran taking his time to ensure full fitness heading into the regular season, or is Collin's spot in danger of being usurped by Mateos or Hines?
The fact that Collin played with OCB on Wednesday rather than starting against NYRB with the first team might indicate that he's in Heath's dog house, but at this point in the preseason it could be interpreted either way.
It could be a case of Inchy wanting to get a better look at his two other primary center back options before the real matches get underway more than demoting a veteran; after all, Collin is a veteran of MLS who knows exactly what to expect throughout the course of a campaign, and Hines (23 career MLS appearances) and Mateos (six) are much less established in the league.
However, without having seen Collin play much with the predicted starters yet, it's difficult to judge how he's looked, although he did put in a nice shift against a strong TFC side that included Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. One thing that certainly bodes well for Aurélien is the showing from the first team on Wednesday, which had Heath thoroughly upset following the match despite the 3-2 finish in his team's favor.
"Poor, very poor," Heath said afterwards. "I thought our body language was poor from the beginning, didn't come ready to play, I thought actually the second group was a lot better. It looked like it meant something more for the second group."
A lackluster showing from Hines and Mateos against the Red Bulls certainly means that, if Collin is indeed in danger of losing his spot, the door is still more than cracked open for him to step up and reclaim his place. Collin's solid showing Wednesday against a strong TFC side could conflate with that disappointing performance from his competitors to help him gain ground.
It would still be slightly surprising to see a starting center back pair on March 6 that didn't include Collin, but for the time being he seems to be facing a stiff competition for his incumbent starting role, which isn't necessarily a bad thing anyway.