TORONTO – Though his career has taken him far from home, Cyle Larin relishes every chance he gets to return to his old stomping grounds for the Canadian men's national team.
On Tuesday night at BMO Field, Canada faces Dominica (7 pm ET) in their second match of the Concacaf Nations League qualification process. And with a mix of new and old faces, Larin and Canada aim to build on an 8-0 win over U.S. Virgin Islands in September as they look to secure a spot in League A of the Nations League, as well as a place at the 2019 Gold Cup.
“The mood is good,” Larin said from the team hotel over the weekend. “The vibe is the most important thing. It feels like a brotherhood. Everyone is close.”
Larin scored twice in the second half against the U.S. Virgin Islands, each time redirecting in crosses from Alphonso Davies as Canada piled on the goals – an important factor given the nature of the competition with goal-difference likely to be decisive.
Reserved on the field, Larin is not one for showy displays. But his pleasure at hitting the back of the net for Canada was palpable.
“It felt great,” he said. “The last couple of Canada games, I haven't scored and to score two, get that ball rolling, felt good, like a monkey off my back. Scoring used to be a problem for us, I don't think it will be [anymore].”
For most of his tenure with the Canadian national team, Larin was a member of Orlando City SC. But the 23-year-old striker left MLS in January, transferring to the Turkish club Besiktas, where he's scored four goals in eight appearances in league play, mostly off the bench.
“The move, for my career, was very good,” Larin said. “It's a new start. The club is very good, the fans are a different level. It's something every player wants to play in front of. I went there to challenge myself too: they play in [UEFA] Champions League, Europa League. I like it.”
Larin scored in his Besiktas debut in April, netted a hat trick in the final game of last season in May, and added another hat trick in Europa League qualification in August.
Canada teammate Atiba Hutchinson, himself a legend in Istanbul, has helped the 23-year-old grow more comfortable in his new environment.
“Atiba made it easier,” Larin said. “Helped me to settle down, get the hang of the ropes.”
In his three seasons in MLS, Larin scored 43 goals in 87 league appearances for Orlando to become the club's all-time leading scorer in their short history. Dom Dwyer is the closest active player, having netted 16 in his season-and-a-half with the Lions.
But despite his success in MLS, the new European challenge came with a lot of lessons.
“You've got to be your best every day; they expect that,” Larin said. “It's very competitive. You've got to do your job and my job is to score. If you don't, it's not good.”
Playing alongside the likes of Hutchinson, Pepe, Ricardo Quaresma, Ryan Babel, Jeremain Lens, and Vagner Love, to name but a few, Larin added: “I develop every day, play with quality players, it's a great place to be.”
But he also looks back at his time in MLS fondly, crediting his first coach, Adrian Heath, with getting the ball rolling on his professional career.
“He really helped me develop, taught me a lot,” Larin said. “He used to be a striker at Everton. He was very important my first two years, coaching me, learning in training, movements and all that, me scoring all these goals. I wouldn't say it became easier to score, but it was happening. I was getting better.”
And he will always have a soft spot for his first professional club, even if this season did not go as planned.
“Orlando is a great city,” said Larin. “The fan base is there, they have a lot of great players. They just need time and will get things done. I love Orlando City, it's the first club I played at, I'll always support them. Hopefully next year will be better.”