With Canada and Honduras set to clash in World Cup qualifying in less than two weeks’ time, the nightmarish 8-1 Canucks loss in the teams’ last meeting is looming large for many soccer followers north of the border.
But striker Cyle Larin, set to lead the line for Canada on Nov. 13, isn’t among those experiencing the traumatic flashbacks. Larin wasn’t with the Canadian team for “the 8-1 game” back in October 2012; in fact, he didn’t even watch it.
“I don’t remember where I was,” the 20-year-old told MLSsoccer.com via conference call on Friday. “I watched the highlights, though.”
While Canada has had numerous memorable, and painful, tussles with Hondurans in recent World Cup qualifying campaigns, Larin isn’t carrying any of that emotional baggage with him. His preparations for the upcoming clash at Vancouver’s BC Place will be like those for any other game.
“I’m just going to take the normal approach when playing for Canada: go out there and win games, and score goals for the team,” said Larin. “I think this is a fresh start for Canada, to go out there and not think about what’s been in the past, but look to the future.”
Larin has three goals in 12 appearances for Canada’s senior national team since making his debut last year. But his most memorable moment for Les Rouges thus far is, unfortunately, his open-net miss against El Salvador in this summer’s Gold Cup.
The team slumped out of that competition without scoring a goal in three games. But once again, Larin is squarely concentrating on the future rather than the past.
“[The Gold Cup] was a good learning experience for me, playing against those teams [El Salvador, Jamaica and Costa Rica],” he said. “Now I know what to expect when I go out there, and to really focus on finishing my chances.”
Despite that high-profile miss, Larin has finished plenty of his chances this season – with 17 goals for Orlando City SC, the native of Brampton, Ontario (just north of Toronto) is the odds-on favorite to win MLS Rookie of the Year. And while nothing’s official yet, Larin says the prospect of earning that honor did help push him.
“As the season went on and I kept scoring goals and the talk came up, I made it a goal to win Rookie of the Year,” he said. “It does motivate me to keep scoring and helping out my team.”
While Orlando City narrowly missed out on the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs in their inaugural MLS campaign, the push for a postseason berth will help motivate Larin at the club level in 2016. And as for the national team level, Larin is motivated by a desire to help Canada finally break through in World Cup qualifying – starting with the showdown against Honduras.
“I think it’s important for me to show that soccer’s growing in Canada and we can make it to the next round after these games,” said Larin. “[We want to] go out there and win games and show we’re a great soccer country.”
In that quest, he’ll likely be joined by a number of newcomers to the program, including fellow Brampton native Junior Hoilett. The 25-year-old QPR midfielder made his long-awaited Canada debut in a friendly against Ghana on Oct. 13 and impressed with his playmaking ability.
“I haven’t played with him yet, but I think Junior Hoilett’s going to be a great connection with me up top,” said Larin. “I saw him play against Ghana, and what I saw was pretty good.”
Getting great service from the Orlando City SC midfield (including former World Player of the Year Kaká) has played a huge part in Larin’s triumphant rookie campaign; now he’s hoping that the likes of Hoilett and another Brampton native, Atiba Hutchinson, can provide a similar boost with the national side.
“When I play with Atiba, I know what he’s going to do every time,” said Larin. “He’s a really good player. To have those guys [from the same hometown] there, I’m at home when they’re there.”
When it comes to feeling at home, Larin says he’s looking forward to opening the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying in Vancouver, a city that hasn’t hosted the men’s national team in over a decade. While the artificial surface at BC Place has been cited as a potential contributor to that absence, Larin – who regularly plays on turf in Orlando – says it could actually provide a potential advantage to the home side.
“I think most of the guys on the [Canadian] team played on turf when they were younger and are used to it,” said Larin. “Hopefully a lot of fans are there and the crowd is behind us.”
One way or another, a new chapter in the Canada-Honduras rivalry will be written on Nov. 13. And Larin, stepping into the fire for the first time, is convinced that the team can make it a positive step forward.
“It’ll be a great match, not like the one where we lost 8-1,” he said. “It’s going to be a better match than that, and hopefully we can go out and win.”