10 Things: "Silent giant" Cyle Larin talks path to MLS, European suitors

ORLANDO, Fla. – Canadian striker Cyle Larin burst on to the MLS scene in a big way with Orlando City SC in 2015, and he aims to keep his goal-scoring ability in the top echelon this season.

He has quickly become the bright hope for Canada’s international prospects, including World Cup qualifying this year, and, at just 20, he can expect to carry a heavy load in 2016.

But he is also something of an enigma, a quiet assassin who rarely gives much away and prefers to let his goals do all the talking for him. Here are 10 Things about the 2015 MLS Rookie of the Year that you may not have known:

Really a striker?

Most forwards keep comprehensive mental records about every goal they have scored, every season. Not Larin. He admits he can’t tell you how many goals he has scored in the past. He knows he netted 17 last year, but before then? “I can’t remember. In high school I scored more than 17; maybe in the 20s.”

Larin proved he could score every which way in his debut MLS season: right foot, left foot, headers, inside the box and outside. But several goals stood out as his favorites. “I definitely remember my first, off my chest at Portland. That got me started. But probably my best was the third at New York City for my hat-trick, just inside the penalty box and I managed to put it in the top corner.”

Maintaining for the long haul

While the Orlando hotshot took the rookie goal-scoring record off Chicago’s Damani Ralph by a full six goals, he needs to make sure he also improves on the Fire striker’s MLS record. Ralph followed up his 11-goal debut year haul with another 11 for Chicago in 2004, but the young Jamaican’s career then fizzled out with a series of knee injuries after he opted for an ill-fated move to Russian side Rubin Kazan in 2005.

Soccer City, Canada

Larin was born and brought up in the city of Brampton, Ontario, just northwest of Toronto. For a big kid with talent in both feet, it was the ideal growing environment, Larin recalls. “Everyone there is very passionate about soccer. Every day was soccer for me. It was a fun place to grow up. I got to play with [new Orlando City draftee] Richie [Laryea]; we played together for 10 years, and it was always soccer. I played with the academy team, and it was good for me.”

Try Sigma for success

From school, the soccer standout was spotted by top Canadian academy club Sigma FC in Toronto at the age of 11 and quickly developed as a major talent, including trips to youth tournaments in Europe. Sigma director Bobby Smyrniotis recalled, “He had some special tools in terms of his athleticism, but he really wanted to learn the game. Lots of kids have potential at 15 or 16, but Cyle was so ready to work and learn. I always thought he could go on to the next level.”

Huskies over Beavers and the Orange

When it came time to graduate from youth soccer in Ontario, Larin had three choices for college soccer. “I visited Syracuse and Oregon State before UConn, but once I saw the environment at UConn, I knew it was for me. It was a very professional setup, the fans came out to support the team in big numbers and the coaches took good care of me. I wanted to feel comfortable and feel part of something, and I think that’s the most important thing for me, that sense of belonging.”

Sophomore star

After deciding on UConn, Larin always had a distinct career path in mind. “I had a plan to go there for two years and have two very good years. I did well the first season, but got injured in the second and didn’t play as many games. But I think I still did well, and I was definitely ready to leave college and turn pro.”

Europe or USA?

Larin’s success at UConn drew the attention of teams in Belgium, Germany and England, as well as among the MLS ranks. Belgian club Racing Genk was the strongest outside suitor for his signature, seeing him as the next Christian Benteke, but he wanted to stay closer to home. “I did know a couple of teams were interested, but I thought the environment here [in MLS] would be good for me,” he said.

For club and country

While the Brampton kid made 27 league appearances for City last year (starting 24), he made another 11 for the Canadian national team (scoring four more goals), having made his debut with the national team while at UConn in May 2014. It has also broadened his soccer education. “I think I am learning about making different runs into the box with the Canada team. It’s about just trying to get between defenders and keeping them guessing. If I can do that, they won’t be able to find me and I can get to the ball.”

He already has his eyes on a big World Cup qualifying date – March 25 vs. Mexico in Vancouver. “Our big target is going to the game against Mexico and getting at least a point so we can go to the Azteca [four days later] and do something. But we can’t afford to look past that.”

Shhh – he likes to keep it quiet

Larin is one of the most quietly-spoken sportsmen anywhere, and it led to his nickname at Sigma. “He was the 'silent giant' with us,” Smyrniotis said. “Even when he complained to the referee, he would be practically whispering. He was always a quiet kid, but he was always a responsible young man with his mother and younger siblings. That sense of family has been very important to him.”