When a #1 overall pick surprises people in his rookie season, more often than not, it’s due to disappointment. Top selections tend to crumble under the pressure of the astronomical expectations placed on them by management and fans, and struggle to make the transition to Major League Soccer.
That hasn’t been the case for Orlando City rookie Cyle Larin. To the contrary, he has taken his team by storm and put MLS on notice.
At just 20 years old, the Ontario native has made a home for himself in Orlando and a name for himself on the pitch. After just eight MLS appearances, Larin has bagged four goals and has become a fixture in the starting XI, starting six consecutive games. Larin’s scorching start ties teammate Danny Mwanga for most goals scored by a #1 overall MLS SuperDraft selection through eight games. Mwanga was drafted first overall by the Philadelphia Union in 2010.
And to think, there was initial talk that he wouldn’t even see the field this season.
The Lions came into 2015 with an a lot of depth at the forward position, touting names like Martin Paterson, Pedro Ribeiro, and Bryan Róchez, but injuries to Paterson and Ribeiro forced Larin to the starting role, and he hasn’t looked back since.
“I knew if I worked hard, I’d get my chance. My chance came and I took it,” said Larin.
“Sometimes the door opens for people and they walk through and never come back. He’s had a great start to his career,” said Head Coach Adrian Heath. “He’s got all the attributes and he’s always been a goal scorer. Couple that with the fact that he’s 6’3” and he’s athletic – he’s got a lovely touch on the ball, he has big opportunities.”
After his sophomore year at the University of Connecticut, Larin declared for January’s SuperDraft. In his final season with the Huskies, Larin made 16 appearances and led the team with 9 goals and 12 assists, earning him the American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
“I was just ready to get my professional career started and I think I was ready after my second year of college. I was ready to go and just start playing at a different level and in a different atmosphere,” said Larin.
When draft day came, Larin knew there was a chance he could go as the top pick, but those suspicions didn’t quell the butterflies.
“I was nervous at the time but (Orlando) is a great place to be and I’m happy I’m here.”
Dominating at the NCAA level is one thing, but transitioning to MLS is quite another. In college, Larin was always one of, if not the, biggest and strongest players on the pitch. But at the professional level, the competition is much stiffer.
“Now, he’s got to be clever as well because the people he’s playing against are as big and as strong,” offered Heath.
The most difficult part about the transition, Larin says, is adjusting to the pace of play in MLS.
“Just the speed of the game and just keeping mentally ready every play of the game. You cannot take a play off because if you do, you can lose a game,” said Larin.
“The most important thing is he’s getting in better physical shape. He’s lost a lot of weight since he’s been with us,” said Heath.
That’s an especially good thing, considering summer is only just beginning and the young Canadian will be running around in the Sunshine State’s sweltering heat and humidity. Fitness is key for producing full 90-minute performances.
Playing with big-name, veteran playmakers like Kaká, Brek Shea, and Eric Avila certainly helps. Kaká and Larin have connected for several goals this season, most recently for City’s second goal in their 4-0 win over the Galaxy. Continued time together will only build their chemistry on the attack.
The good times are rolling for Larin and the Lions, but Heath knows his individual success can only be sustained for so long.
“I’m under no illusions that at some stage he might have a little dip because he’s never played more than three months in a year – that’s what you do in college – so there’s going to be sort of peaks and troughs with him. But at the moment he’s going to ride this out while he’s doing so well.”
Even though he’s playing well, having scored four goals in four consecutive games with Orlando, including a 3-2 friendly win against Ponte Preta, Adrian Heath reminds us that the rookie still has a lot to learn.
“He needs more attention at times, his concentration levels need to be better. I keep screaming at him about getting onside early after he makes a good run and walks back and then we’ve got the ball back and he’s still offside, so little things like that. But he wants to learn and we’re doing a lot of video work with him to see where we think he can get better. The most important thing is he wants to learn and he does, so he has a chance.”
Larin has been one of the brightest spots in the early goings of City’s first MLS season. GM Paul McDonough and Adrian Heath are elated with their young star’s early success. The more he shines, the brighter the future looks for Orlando City.