The 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup was not the best experience for Canada or El Salvador, respectively, as both countries failed to make it out of the group stage of the competition that began less than two weeks ago.
Playing in Group B alongside Jamaica and Costa Rica, Canada and El Salvador managed just two points apiece in group play, mustering a pair of draws each to go along with two combined losses. Jamaica ran away with the group, as the Reggae Boyz took seven points from nine possible, and the lackluster showings from Canada and El Salvador left the door open for Costa Rica to squeak into the knockout rounds on the strength of just three points.
For Orlando City products Cyle Larin of Canada and Darwin Cerén of El Salvador, the 2015 Gold Cup will largely be an experience to forget.
Larin made national headlines for the wrong reason in Canada's tournament opener against El Salvador. After receiving the ball on a breakaway run, Larin rounded the keeper and set himself up for what should have been an easy finish and the would-be game winner. Instead, Larin blasted very high and very wide to the right and the match ended in a 0-0 draw, and our neighbors to the north would fail to score a goal at all in the tourney.
Likewise for La Azul y Blanco, Cerén's Gold Cup experience was one marked mostly by fouls. Of all players in the group stage, none committed more fouls than Cerén's nine, and he was also the third-most fouled player of the stage with eight fouls committed against him.
Gaining international experience is a good thing for all players – especially those like Larin, who is 20 years old and part of a young core that will be around for years to come for Canada. It's safe to say, however, that with results like the ones mentioned above, Larin and Cerén's talents would be of better use to their club team right now anyway, and Orlando won't have to wait as long to get them back in purple as they would have had either national team made a deep run.
Orlando are currently in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, sitting in fifth place but remaining just three points off the pace for second behind D.C. United. The Lions have had a mixed bag of results in their last two MLS matches sans Cerén and Larin, earning a draw at Real Salt Lake and laying an egg in a 2-0 loss to FC Dallas.
The absences were particularly glaring against Dallas, where a five-man midfield overwhelmed Orlando, and young Harrison Heath and Amobi Okugo's combined efforts could not replicate the steady presence of Cerén alongside Cristian Higuita. Heath was yanked at the half, while Okugo looked a shell of the player we saw early in the season in a sub-par second half.
Without Larin and Kaká – who missed the match due to reasons more dubious than international duty, thanks to Sorin Stoica's thoughtless red card – Orlando was forced to play makeshift striker Pedro Ribeiro in the captain's No. 10 spot, while left winger Carlos Rivas led the line as the Lions' lone striker. Rivas' blazing speed found him offside on a number of occasions, and he would slice a late penalty kick wide left of the frame to ensure a scoreless outing for OCSC. Suffice it to say results were not optimal.
Larin's return up top, where he has chipped in six goals as a rookie, could not come at a better time based on the performance last Saturday, regardless of what City is (or isn't) able to accomplish in the transfer market (read: Chicharito negotiations).
With the misery of the Gold Cup now in the rear view, look for Larin and Cerén to return to their respective posts at striker and in the central midfield and, with the exception of Corey Ashe making his debut at left back, for order to be restored in the Orlando City starting XI.