After being selected as the No. 1 pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft out of UConn, Cyle Larin has come into the league and immediately made positive contributions offensively, helping expansion Orlando City SC into third place in the Eastern Conference table.
There is unique pressure to being a No. 1 draft pick in MLS, and Larin -- whether he has felt the pressure or not -- has lived up to the expectations of a top pick. The Lions' No. 9 burst onto the scene in recent weeks, scoring four goals in six matches before missing OCSC's last game against D.C. United Sunday due to international duty.
Larin continued playing in strong form for Canada, scoring two goals in two starts in his nation's World Cup qualifier matches against Dominica. With five goals in eight starts, and 11 OCSC games, Larin has a legitimate shot at becoming the record holder for goals by a rookie No. 1 pick, which would break the record of seven held by current teammate Danny Mwanga.
With plenty of "can't miss" goal scorers selected No. 1 in the MLS SuperDraft in past years, many have fallen short of expectations. Let's take a look at how Larin stacks up with all of the forwards taken No. 1 previously.
Alecko Eskandarian (2003) - The University of Virginia product was the first forward to ever be taken No. 1 overall. He rewarded D.C. United with a solid rookie campaign, finding the net three times and adding two assists in 23 appearances, mostly coming in as a reserve. He followed his rookie year with a 10-goal sophomore campaign before suffering a concussion midway through his third year and never quite returned to form. He did score seven goals in 2006, his fourth season, but has since bounced around to four different teams, playing more than 1,000 minutes in a season just once.
Freddy Adu (2004) - The wunderkind who became the youngest player to sign an MLS contract in more than a century never quite lived up to the hype that surrounded him after being drafted No. 1 by D.C. United out of Project-40. Adu was one of the few No. 1 draft picks to be featured frequently on SportsCenter and, by and large, had more pressure on him than any other No. 1 pick. But in seven seasons in MLS, Adu, who is still just 26, never scored more than five goals in a season and averaged less than three goals and three assists per year in MLS play.
Steve Zakuani (2009) - Zakuani, drafted by the Seattle Sounders out of Generation Adidas, has traveled a similar path to that of Eskandarian. After filling up the nets with 14 goals in his first two seasons, Zakuani has scored just three times in the past four years. The 2008 runner-up for the Hermann Trophy played in just eight games last season for the Sounders before being selected by Portland in the 2014 re-entry draft. He retired last October, citing persistent injuries as the reason.
Danny Mwanga (2010) - It's becoming a trend seeing No. 1 picks have two solid seasons before trailing off for the rest of their careers. Mwanga set the record for goals in a season by a rookie No. 1 pick with seven, and followed that up with a five-goal, four-assist campaign in 2010. But in the four years since, Mwanga has played for four teams and never reached the 800-minute mark in a season. He came to Orlando City this season, and was expected to compete with Larin for time, but Larin grabbed hold of the No. 9 role early, leaving Mwanga to scavenge just 80 minutes so far this season.
Omar Salgado (2011) - Salgado, still just 21 years old, scored one goal as a rookie, but has never found the net since with the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Generation Adidas product missed all of 2013 with an injury, and has appeared in just two matches this season. The jury could still be out on a young forward like Salgado, but so far he has been the most disappointing forward picked No. 1 in history.
Andrew Wenger (2012) - Wenger, out of Duke University, was selected by Montreal in 2012, and scored six goals in his first three seasons with the team. In 2014, Wenger was traded to Philadelphia and scored six goals in his debut season with the club. He finished third on the team in scoring that season. So far this year, Wenger's scoring has taken a hit (0 goals, 1 assist), but he has done enough good things to remain on the pitch, starting 15 of 16 games he has appeared in this year.
We are all supposed to learn from history, right? If there is one thing we can take away from history, it is that not too much stock should be placed on Larin's rookie season. So many No. 1 draft picks have performed well in the first one or two seasons before falling off for the rest of their careers.
It will be interesting to see if the 20-year-old Canadian international can avoid the drop-off seen by so many former No. 1 picks. At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, Larin is one of the most physically imposing forwards to be taken No. 1 overall, and is perhaps the most-developed player skill-wise at this point in his career of the lot.
Barring injury, his combination of size, skill and vision bode well for Larin to replicate successful seasons for years to come.