At one point in the season, it appeared that Orlando City striker Cyle Larin would obliterate the MLS rookie scoring record. The Canadian international out of UConn tied the record of 11 goals on Aug. 2 with a brace against Columbus and with 12 matches remaining in the regular season, the question was not if Larin would break the record, but how many goals would he clear it by?
Fast forward a month and a half, and Kid Fantastic is still sitting on 11 goals, unable to find the back of the net in 451 MLS minutes since his double against the Crew.
While Larin hasn't been the only Lion who has struggled to score recently -- Orlando only mustered two goals as a team in six matches between the Columbus win and last week's Sporting KC triumph -- the rookie appears to be steadily losing steam as the season progresses. After going on an 11-game mid-season tear in which he netted 10 times, Larin has been ineffective in his last six club outings, and has looked fatigued in doing so.
"For the first time on Sunday, I thought Cyle looked really tired," manager Adrian Heath said on Tuesday's coach's show. "We knew it would come at some stage, but I thought that the week had caught up with him."
That week Heath referenced for Larin was spent on international duty with Canada, and included travel to Belize, back to Toronto, and then back to Orlando just a couple of days prior to the SKC tilt. That kind of work and long travel with his international side crammed in with non-stop training and matches with his club have started to take a toll on Larin's legs after seven months of the MLS season.
Larin's acclimation from the collegiate level to the American top flight is an ongoing process, as he has never seen this type of workload over such a prolonged period of time in his life. MLS, where the regular season spans over eight months, as opposed to just three to four months in the NCAA, is a different animal than he experienced in his time in the American Athletic Conference with Connecticut, and his legs are being affected.
According to Rollins College men's soccer coach Keith Buckley, who appears weekly on Heath's show, this does not come as a surprise.
"College soccer does not prepare players for the professional season," Buckley said Tuesday. "Not even close. We have a player on our [Rollins] team who is very close friends with Cyle Larin, and as much as he appreciates and loves the fact that he's playing in MLS, he is tired. Probably as much mentally as he is physically, and that's to be expected for a first-year player."
In 2013, as a freshman, Larin made 23 appearances for UConn, totaling 1,721 minutes and scoring 14 goals. In 2014, he made 16 appearances for 1,257 total minutes and nine goals. While Larin's 1,498 league minutes for Orlando this season are not beyond what he saw in college, they have combined with months of travel, training. and international duty (he's made seven appearances for Canada in 2015) to tax the first-year pro beyond any level he has experienced previously.
And, as Heath pointed out this week, it's not just the volume of work that Larin is doing, but the increased intensity of that labor as well that is wearing him thin.
"He's always got by on just being bigger and stronger than people he played with at college," Heath said. "And now it's a lot more physical for him."
The good news is that the club is aware of what Larin is going through, and is adjusting accordingly. Larin has not played a full 90 minutes in his last four outings, and Heath said that he was given a rest from training this week to help him recharge ahead of tonight's match in Chicago.
The emergence of Bryan Róchez will help to spell Larin's workload as well, as Orlando City now appears to have a viable goal-scoring option behind the rookie to be used off the bench. Make no mistake, though, Heath and the club are still intent on getting their young striker that MLS record before the season is up.
"I want him to get that goal because I think it's important he ends up being the top scoring rookie of the league," Heath said. "It's something we have to help him with because I think he's deserved that record."
Larin has certainly put together a campaign worthy of that rookie record, now he just has to battle through the fatigue as his young legs get accustomed to the rigors of an MLS season.