Orlando City striker Cyle Larin motivated to avoid sophomore slump in MLS

Cyle Larin - Orlando City SC - celebration - Citrus Bowl

ORLANDO, Fla. -- If preseason ambition is anything to go by, Orlando City SC–and the Canadian national team–can expect to see a lot more from Cyle Larin this year as he bids to build on his impressive debut season.

The 2015 No. 1 SuperDraft pick and MLS Rookie of the Year burst on to the scene with an impressive 17 goals last year. But there will certainly be no resting on any laurels if the 20-year-old has his way in Year Two.

Larin is well aware of the potential of the dreaded sophomore slump, while he is already gearing up to make sure he is better prepared for the rigors of a full season. As the Orlando players completed their preseason medical checks on Friday, the Toronto-born striker was among the first to appear, looking noticeably fit and lean.

“I’m excited to be back, and it feels good that I now know what to expect,” he said. “I have actually been back for quite a while, looking to get stronger and fitter than last season, and I think I have a lot more in me. The sophomore thing also motivates me to work harder and make sure I am moving quicker and picking up on any weaknesses. Last year was so different to college level, so this year I want to be ready.”

It took Larin a month to make his first start last season but he still finished up with 27 appearances, plus another 11 for Canada. For a while, it looked like that workload was taking a toll, as he went seven games without a goal from August to mid-September.

“Last year was definitely a challenge from the physical point of view,” he said. “That is why I have been working on my fitness more. I haven’t played a season that long before.

“I did shut down for four weeks after the season just to refresh, but after that I just wanted to get back at it again, I was anxious to start training again and, since then, I have just been aiming to be the fittest I can be for preseason.”

As well as working on his strength and stamina, Larin has another target for 2016 that stems from some gentle ribbing from superstar teammate Kaká. While he had 17 tallies in the goals column, he had zero assists his rookie campaign. The Brazilian ace was quick to point that out, and that is something Larin intends to put right.

“Yes, that is definitely something I am looking to work on,” he admitted. “It is about getting my head up more, making runs at the right time, and giving Kaká some assists. I definitely want to give him something to say this time.”

Larin is also well aware it is a big year in World Cup qualifying terms for Canada as they bid to escape from a tough group with Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras. They have made a promising start with four points from their first two games, but another four games await, including a crucial home and away series with El Tri.

“I do have real targets this year to do well with the national team,” Larin said. “We need to make it to the next round because that would be really big for Canada. There is certainly an opportunity there and hopefully I can do my part.”

The other excitement for Larin is the arrival of his former Toronto youth teammate Richie Laryea, who was Orlando’s top pick in this month’s SuperDraft. The two had played together since they were nine, and attacking midfielder Laryea, just 21 years old, could end up supplying the ammunition for Larin for both club and country.

“As soon as he got drafted, he texted me and asked if we were going to room together,” Larin said, laughing. “I did tell Adrian [Heath, Orlando City's head coach] to look at him and give him a chance as I’ve known Richie so long, and it is great that he’s coming. He is a very talented player and he will do well here. I will look forward to showing him around and getting the hang of things.”