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Veteran Red Bulls defender Aurélien Collin still influential despite limited minutes

Apr 28, 2018; Carson, CA, USA; New York Red Bulls defender Aurelien Collin (78) against the Los Angeles Galaxy at StubHub Center. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

HANOVER, N.J. — Though his playing time has diminished greatly in his third year with the New York Red Bulls, Aurélien Collin’s influence has not.

The veteran French centerback has started four regular-season matches and played just 283 minutes this season. His role on the field largely is as a backup to first-choice tandem Tim Parker and Aaron Long.

When the Red Bulls formation called for three centerbacks, or when Parker was away with the United States men’s national team, Collin’s number was called.

A former MLS All-Star and MLS Cup champion with Sporting Kansas City, Collin has been an unused sub 13 times this season and has played one minute over the course of the last six league games.

However, Collin’s professional approach and positive demeanor, both in the locker room and on the training ground, has rubbed off on teammates.

A prime example is German midfielder Marc Rzatkowski. He hasn’t started a regular season match since April and only lately has been used off the bench as a substitute. He endured a difficult period, but saw how Collin handled a similar situation and used him as motivation.

It paid off for Rzatkowski with a late brace in a come-from-behind 3-2 win over Sporting Kansas City last Saturday at Red Bull Arena.

“The best example is maybe Aurelien Collin,” Rzatkowski said after training Tuesday. “He’s maybe also not playing that often this season, but he came every day to training, pushing himself very hard. I try to look at him and say, ‘OK, he’s really good in this, he’s motivational,’ and I try to put it on myself. I’m happy to know this guy because he’s a very good example.”

Mar 13, 2018; Harrison, NJ; New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles (31) celebrates with defender Aurelien Collin (78) during match against the Tijuana Xolos at Red Bull Arena. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

Red Bulls teammates Luis Robles and Tyler Adams also laud Collin’s infectious attitude, with Robles quick to point out Collin “saved our season” when he arrived via trade with Orlando City SC in 2016.

“He smiles all the time. He’s very positive. He’s always looking to make another person smile,” Robles said after training Thursday. “He has such great energy to him. I know I rely on him a lot. We talk a lot, not just about soccer, we talk about life. He’s got such a great perspective. Everything he brings to the field and the locker room is great.”

Said Adams: “The character that Aurelien influences everyone with — his positive attitude, just joking around, always having a smile on his face — he affects everyone in the locker room and puts a smile on everyone’s face. It’s amazing to see what a veteran can do like that.”

Robles joked it’s impossible to not hear Collin in the Red Bulls locker room, and coach Chris Armas said the same is true during games.

“He’s sitting not too far away from me and you can hear how he encourages guys, how he supports guys. He’s yelling sometimes at referees and we’ve got to calm him down a bit, but he really cares about what’s going on,” said Armas, insisting Collin will be instrumental down the stretch of the season.

Nov 6, 2016; Harrison, NJ; New York Red Bulls defender Aurelien Collin (78) reacts with midfielder Daniel Royer (77) after a goal during a match against the Montreal Impact at Red Bull Arena. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

Collin said he’ll give advice from time to time — and he has a wealth of experience to draw from — but said his leadership is more about how he carries himself day after day.

“Everything I do, I have to do it 100 percent,” Collin said. “It’s very easy to give everything when everything is good, but when everything is bad and the coach is not playing you, this is where you have to really be strong and work harder.”

It’s because of that mentality and drive that Armas called Collin the ultimate pro.

“What he has meant to the current centerbacks who are starting — he’s encouraging with those guys and teaching, and he’s a mentor to all players. We all appreciate that. What he can give off the field and on the field, the encouragement, and then he trains right,” Armas said. “I haven’t been around a better pro than him.”

Growing up, Collin’s work ethic and inspiration interestingly didn’t come from a veteran soccer player. It was former NBA great Allen Iverson.

“He was receiving kicks and fouls and he was falling, but he was always coming back up,” Collin said. “I think that’s a great way to live your life. You’re going to receive a lot of kicks, but it’s important to get back up and not stay on the floor.”

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