You knew it would happen eventually.
A 17-goal rookie campaign that garners you the Rookie of the Year Award is quite the easy target for the Internet's favorite form of soccer click-bait: The transfer rumor.
Regardless of how you feel about transfer rumors, they exist as a thriving subsection of the soccer journalism scene because, well, they're just too damn fascinating to pass up. Ashley Cole to LA? I'll read some of that. Ronaldinho is coming to MLS (again)? Give me all of those links because I've got a 30-minute lunch break to kill. Chicharito is on the move again? I'll take a helping of that on my plate, please and thank you.
So it won't come as any surprise when Cyle Larin is linked with moves away from MLS and your Twitter feed lights up with things like this:
Boom Source tells me MLS rookie of the year CMNT player Cyle Larin is receiving strong interest from Tigres in Mexico— A. Totera (@4totera) December 24, 2015
The truth is that Larin is the first MLS LeBron James figure -- a rookie superstar who has the physical gifts and attitude to live up to and exceed the considerable expectation that come with being a No. 1 overall pick. I would reckon many clubs the world over would be willing to pay a pretty penny for the 20-year-old, and so do most people with a keyboard and an Internet connection.
Historically, MLS teams aren't averse to selling their young stars, and the league's journalistic wing isn't averse to using those transfers as some kind of validation of the league's ability as a talent producer.
From the team's perspective, I understand it; bringing in the big bucks by selling a young star makes it easier to do business and fill out a roster constrained by salary rules (especially in the context of these types of statements). I also understand it from the player's perspective, because every player wants to test himself against stiffer competition and make more money. Professional athletes are ultra-competitive alpha dogs by nature, and the challenge of a more developed league with a higher quality of play presents quite the tantalizing option.
Frankly, I don't care about whether Larin's development will be best served here or overseas, or even whether he has the desire to go to Europe or elsewhere. Those are separate arguments for separate columns. I care about what kind of statement Orlando and the league could make by keeping him here.
For their part, the Orlando front office -- regardless of who is in charge there -- has been out front in squashing any rumors, and I do believe that they don't plan on selling Larin anytime soon, but what are they supposed to say? If they were to give some form of the sentence, "Yes we are aware of Larin's potential value, and yes we are open to selling him at a future date, if the price is right," you can already imagine that there would be more than just a mere half-dozen angry folks out in front of Lions HQ, even if that is the pragmatic point of view held by reasonable observers and fans.
We all know, though, that there will come a day in the not-so-distant future that a team comes knocking on Phil Rawlins' door with Luca Brasi, $10,000 and an offer that Rawlins couldn't refuse to take Larin away from the Lions. All the while, "The Don" will be ready with his oiled journalistic machine to defend the deal as a sign of the league's growth or some other party-line stance, while the truth is that MLS will have sold off its first original superstar and we will all be robbed of watching a young talent emerge to become his league's preeminent attacking player.
I say double down. When the pastures on the other side of the fence begin to look a little greener to young Cyle, make your own offer to convince him that maybe life wouldn't be so bad without doing any fence jumping. I understand he has a significant global impact on marketing and the overall stature of the club, but if Orlando City can afford to pay Kaká the big bucks, then Larin might be worth just as significant an investment.
Do you really want to make MLS a league of choice for American (and Canadian) players, Mr. Garber? Then start by making it a league of choice for young, developing superstars in the same way you've made it one for middling European stars and aging Americans plying their trade abroad. And make Cyle Larin the poster child for the movement. It's the next step the league needs to take.
Could this all turn out to be hyperbole in hindsight? You betcha. The MLS Rookie of the Year award hasn't exactly been a harbinger of success, but I don't think we've ever seen a player like Larin win it. Let's hope he's still around in a few years to win the league's biggest individual award.