From mid-April to August, Orlando City rookie Cyle Larin looked like a man on a mission. A man on a mission to become rookie of the year, and break the rookie goal-scoring record set by Damani Ralph in 2003.
In the 14 games Larin appeared in from April 12 to August 1, the Canadian international scored all 11 of his goals to tie Ralph's record. And ever since, the 20-year-old's play has floundered as pressure to find the back of the net and set the record has mounted and perhaps the grind of the long MLS season, coupled with international play, has worn him down.
In steps Bryan Rochez. And maybe it is time for the young designated player to get his first shot in XI.
Another 20-year-old, but one who has been seldom used to this point, Rochez has come on as a sub in four of the last five Orlando City matches, and each match his play has gotten progressively better.
In Orlando City's match Sunday against Sporting Kansas City, Rochez got his first career goal on an assist from Brek Shea shortly after he and Shea subbed onto the field. Rochez, as it happens, subbed on for Larin, who did very little to mount an offensive attack in the striker position Sunday night.
But, after Rochez and Shea came on, the attack was extra dangerous. Rochez also helped set up another goal with nice hustle and tic-tac passing with Lewis Neal and Adrian Winter, though Rochez didn't get the assist for the goal.
In 22 minutes of play against New England in a 3-0 loss, Rochez failed to register a goal or assist, but he did get three shots off, in what was one of the few bright performances on the Lions' side.
Early in the year, Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath noted that he thought Larin's play would hit a wall at some point. It appears as though that moment may be here now. He hasn't scored in the last six matches he has appeared in, and has provided very few chances on goal for himself.
Since the last time Larin scored -- he had two goals against Columbus on Aug. 1 -- he has mustered just eight shots total. He unleashed eight shots in the match against Columbus alone.
His shot numbers for each game since August are below, and take notice of the progressive decrease.
8, 3, 2, 1, 0, 1, 1.
It's going to be hard to win many games at all when your striker is averaging one shot per game in his last five. Of those eight shots since Aug. 1, only two have been on goal.
It should be noted though, Larin did, however, play a large part in Orlando City's lone goal against Chicago the last time these teams met. He just wasn't given credit for the goal, despite what looked to be him getting a head on the ball and sending it toward frame. It ended up being called an own-goal on Eric Gehrig.
But outside of that, the most dangerous play Larin has made occurred in that same Chicago game, when he got around a Chicago defender and dished a pass to Carlos Rivas, whose shot clanged off the post.
With Larin's play being so inconsistent, it's probably a good opportunity for Heath to sit him on the bench as a sub, and let Rochez get a chance to show what he can do as a starter. Rochez, after all, has created more chances than Larin in the last five matches, while playing less than half the minutes on the pitch.
It's possible that Larin is pressing too hard to get that 12th goal. But it's even more likely his legs are failing him this late in the season, after playing more minutes than he probably ever has in one season. This would also explain his seemingly lethargic play at times. This is all the more reason for Heath to sit him down and let him come off the bench in the 75th or 80th minute to try and give Orlando City a late boost of energy and a good goal-scoring threat if the Lions need it.
If not, let the rookie rest and get his legs back in case Orlando City makes the playoffs. Then, maybe he will get back into the good run of form he enjoyed from April to August.
Until then, it might be time to see what Rochez can do.