After Friday's heartbreaking stoppage-time loss to D.C. United, the first back-to-back home losses in Orlando City franchise history (both USL and MLS), one bright spark that can be taken from the game was the 65-plus first team minutes that Cyle Larin was able to get under his belt.
The 19-year-old entered the game in the 22nd minute in place of the injured Pedro Ribeiro -- who went down without contact, with what appeared to be a hamstring injury -- and the young Canadian tried to make the most of his first team minutes, racking up four shots (with two on goal) and winning four freebkicks for the Lions.
Larin's extended first team minutes for Orlando capped a good week for the Canuck, who managed to grab his first international goal for the Canadian Men's National Team against Puerto Rico on Monday in a friendly. Larin, who turns 20 a week from this Friday, already has five caps for the Canadian senior team. His ability to break onto the Canadian senior roster came on the heels of his stellar collegiate career with the University of Connecticut Huskies
As a freshman at UConn, Larin grabbed 14 goals and three assists in 23 games and was named as American Athletic Conference Rookie of the year and given a spot on the Soccer America All-Freshman First Team. These honors led MLS to make him a Generation Adidas contract offer for the 2014 SuperDraft, however Larin passed on the draft and chose to remain at UConn.
His decision to return for his sophomore season was a good one, as he continued to make a name for himself when he finished the season with nine goals and three assists in 16 games. His performance earned him the award of American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year and his continued success at the collegiate level meant that, once again, he was offered a Generation Adidas contract by MLS, which, this time, he accepted.
The decision to accept the GA contract and turn professional virtually guaranteed that Larin would be coming to play for Orlando City in 2015 (after Orlando had won the first pick of the SuperDraft in the expansion draft lottery with New York City FC).
However, Larin's Orlando career didn't start that smoothly. With six forwards on the depth chart (including young DP Bryan Rochez), it seemed likely that Larin would probably be sent to our USL affiliate, Louisville City FC, to get the most playing time, despite having a natural talent for his position. But things don't always go as planned, and now he is getting his opportunity.
With Martin Paterson out injured, Bryan Rochez not playing at a level the club is happy with, Sidney Rivera at Louisville (and also nursing an injury), and with Danny Mwanga being a nobody against Montreal, the club only had two players left that could play up front -- Ribeiro and Larin -- for Friday's game. Now with Ribeiro going down injured, the club has gone from six players at the position down to one -- and the last man standing, Cyle Larin, is the youngest of them all and, potentially, has the most talent.
So, what happens next? Well, until Paterson and Ribeiro return from injury, Larin is expected to lead the charge for the Lions up front and Friday's performance against D.C. United should give supporters a little glimmer of hope heading into the next two games away to the Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew SC.
The reason is because, with Larin in the lineup, it forces Orlando City to play a different type of game. Gone is the long ball played up to the lone striker. Gone are the wide, away-from-goal runs that Kaká is constantly making. Gone are the crosses where Orlando City has no players in the 18-yard box, because they are all playing midfield.
With Larin, a proven center forward on the field, the Lions' fortunes should hopefully start to turn around up top. The only question that remains is: will Heath actually change the system to suit Larin? Or, will he continue to try to place square pegs in round hole?
Only time will tell. However, if Larin continues to get minutes, and he plays in a system that actually works, then he can become the goal scorer that the Lions desperately need. And since he is currently the only player left standing up front, you could say that the cream has risen to the top for Orlando City.