ORLANDO, Fla. – After 31 goals in his first two professional seasons, you might think Cyle Larin would be satisfied with his start to life in MLS. After all, the 2015 No. 1 SuperDraft pick and Rookie of the Year led his team in goals for a second straight year.
His personal verdict, however? Good, but not nearly good enough.
Just before he flew back to his Brampton, Ontario, home for his first extended break in almost a year, Larin took time to look back on his MLS career to date, especially a second year that saw Orlando City SC ultimately miss out on the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs by just a point.
“I started the season off well and I was scoring goals but then I kind of went down,” he explained. “I think I could certainly have scored more goals this year. There are still chances I look back [on] and think, if I’d scored, it would probably have changed the game. I didn’t score three goals at any time this year, and that also [bugs me].”
Larin bagged two hat tricks in his 17-goal debut season and had four multi-goal games. This year he had just one multi-goal outing, while he managed only six goals in the second half of the campaign, and one in the final nine games. That needs to change in 2017, he says.
“For my third year in the league, I want to score a lot more goals,” the big striker said. “I want to be up in the top three goalscorers in the league because I think that’s where I should be. That’s definitely one of my goals [for 2017]. When December comes, I will start back on a [fitness] program and aim to be in the best shape of my life for next season.
“For the team, we should make the playoffs for sure. We will have a great stadium to play in and we need to make it hard for teams to come there and win. It’s something we need to take advantage of.”
Next year is already firmly on Larin’s mind, both for Orlando's new, 25,500-capacity stadium and what City needs to do to get over the expansion team hump. The postseason is the all-consuming target, and he is convinced it is not far away.
“If we had been just a bit more consistent we may well have [reached the playoffs] this year. But I believe we have the team to do it,” he said.
“Being close is probably the worst feeling. You are almost there, almost there, and then you’re not. But I think once we get there, we can do something good. The last two games of the season were very important for us; we won and we ended the season on the right note.”
Larin is also sure his first two years in the league have set him up to be more productive in the future. He now has a handle on the physical demands and what head coach Jason Kreis expects from his players after taking charge in July.
“There were definitely things that happened in games that I learned from this season, things I could have done better and made a difference for us,” he admitted. “Going into next season, it will be my third year and I feel more experienced now. I have had enough experience at the position I play in this league to know when certain situations come, I can do different things.
“This season there were certainly more defenders on me. That was new, so I now know to expect that. It’s not the same as when hardly anyone watched me. Now I know what to do and I have to get my body physically ready for that next year.”
Having arrived from the college ranks, Larin believes there is an increasing amount of catch-up necessary for players looking to take the step up to MLS – and it is not going to get any easier for college hopefuls any time soon.
“Coming out of college was a big change for me,” he explained. “It was a question of slowly but surely getting the hang of it. Major League Soccer is a growing league and college soccer has to learn from it. But it takes time and there is a lot they need to learn, especially in the physical demands. You’ve got to be ready to go for 34 games, which is a lot when you’re used to college.
“It definitely feels like the gap is growing right now. MLS has grown so fast and it is still getting better, and the quality of players is improving all the time. As the years [go on], it is getting harder for college to keep up with that level, both physically and mentally.”
Larin also believes that with NCAA rules continuing to restrict the amount of team practice time college players can undertake, the onus will be on players to work individually, to create their own training regimes, and to pay attention to the unique demands of the professional level.
“You need to be a lot fitter than you realize,” he added. “Make sure you’re physically on a different level. There are lot of guys in this league that are both fit and strong, and you don’t get that a lot in college. You also have to get yourself ready mentally to go up against that.
“This is a 24-hours-a-day job, and you always have to be ready. Take care of your body, and make sure your mind stays focused throughout the dying moments in a game because it can cost you the season sometimes.”
Larin also has unfinished business with the Canadian national team in 2017. He managed just one goal in five appearances this year and is anxious to make more impact in the future.
“I haven’t scored nearly as many goals for the national team as I have for Orlando so that’s another target for me,” he said. “The Gold Cup [in 2017] will be very important for us to do well and to grow together as a team. Last time Canada didn’t do well, so we need to put that right. That’s very important to me.”