As a rookie, Cyle Larin proved more than worthy of his No. 1 selection by Orlando City in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. The Canadian international out of UConn used four multi-goal performances (two braces, two hat tricks) on his way to netting 17 goals in 2015 – an MLS rookie record – and securing the league's Rookie of the Year Award.
On the heels of his historic season, however, Larin is now tasked with avoiding the dreaded "sophomore slump" in 2016. Larin's talents were on full display in 2015 and provide plenty of reason for optimism heading into his second season, but the history of strikers to claim MLS Rookie of the Year honors also bodes well for success in '16.
Larin vs. Former Rookies of the Year
Larin is the fifth forward to claim the ROTY distinction, and three of the previous four players in his position have fared as well or better in their sophomore campaigns in terms of goal scoring, with the lone exception being Tesho Akindele from last season's FC Dallas squad. Rodrigo Faria, Damani Ralph and C.J. Sapong all saw their numbers remain steady or improve the following season.
Our David Rohe compared Larin's rookie numbers to the aforementioned ROTY winners last month, and Larin's rookie year came out as the best of the bunch. Looking at Faria's, Ralph's and Sapong's second-year numbers shows that Larin, as the league's best rookie from a season ago, is likely to avoid a slump based on the history.
Faria improved his scoring tally from eight in 2001 to 12 in 2002, and had more assists. Sapong scored nine in 2012 after notching five in 2011 for Sporting KC. Ralph, who set the rookie scoring record Larin broke with 11 goals in 2002, equaled that output in 2003. Akindele was the lone victim of the sophomore slump, scoring only five goals after recording seven as a rookie.
Larin's rookie performance was more efficient than all of his counterparts as well, as he had a higher shot conversion rate and blew away the other four in terms of total goals and goals-per-90 average.
Another (and even better) reason to have high expectations for Larin in 2016 is his performance relative to some of the best goal scorers in the league as a rookie.
Larin vs. MLS's Best in '15
While comparing Larin's rookie numbers to other former standout first-year players is useful, it's perhaps doing him a bit of an injustice – his 2015 stats stack up to the best players MLS has to offer.
There were 22 players who scored 10 goals or more last season in MLS, and among those players Larin was one of the most efficient scorers league-wide in his very first season as a pro.
Larin found the net 17 times on just 64 shot attempts last year, an impressive shot conversion rate of 26.6%. For context, some of the elite scorers in the league paled in comparison in terms of shot conversion: league-leaders Sebastian Giovinco and Kei Kamara scored 22 goals apiece but converted at 12.2% and 16.3% clips, respectively, while David Villa scored his 18 goals with a 13% finishing rate.
In fact, only four players across the league who notched more than 10 scores managed better conversion rates than Larin in 2015. You'll probably recognize a few of them.
|Player||Goals||Total Shots||Conversion Rate|
|Obafemi Martins (SEA)||15||42||35.7%|
|Jozy Altidore (TFC)||13||37||35.1%|
|Lloyd Sam (NYRB)||10||32||31.25%|
|Robbie Keane (LA)||20||73||27.4%|
|Cyle Larin (OCSC)||17||64||26.6%|
Perhaps even more impressive is how efficiently Larin scored on a per-90-minute basis, and the fact that he did it all without taking a single penalty kick. Of the aforementioned 22 players, only one player averaged more non-penalty goals per 90 minutes than Larin did in 2015, and he's a bit of a legend.
|Player||Non-Penalty Goals||Minutes Played||Non-Penalty Goals Per 90|
|Didier Drogba (MON)||10||870||1.03|
|Cyle Larin (OCSC)||17||1906||0.80|
|Obafemi Martins (SEA)||15||1805||0.74|
|Kei Kamara (CLB)||22||2761||0.72|
|Robbie Keane (LA)||16||2059||0.70|
|Sebastian Giovinco (TFC)||19||2775||0.62|
|Fanendo Adi (PTFC)||13||2161||0.54|
|Jozy Altidore (TFC)||10||1796||0.50|
|Bradley Wright-Phillips (NYRB)||15||2865||0.47|
|Clint Dempsey (SEA)||9||1742||0.46|
Spot-kick goals count on the scoreboard just the same as goals from open play or set pieces, but Larin's ability to score non-penalty goals shows his immense potential as a No. 9 and puts him among some truly elite company. In Larin, Adrian Heath has a striker who is able to use his movement and precise finishing to create goals, and he's only just scratched the surface.
Larin managed three headed goals last season and three more with his weaker left foot. He used clever off-ball movement and runs at goal to create 15 goals inside the penalty area, while also sniping a pair of outside-the-box goals to demonstrate his range.
The 20-year-old's conversion rate and per-90 scoring numbers not only cement his 2015 campaign as the best rookie season ever, but they put him among the league's best forwards, period.
With a season under his belt and an off-season to work on his game, Larin will be in a position to play more minutes in 2016, as he is now acclimated to the length and intensity of an MLS season. With play-maker Kaká back and right wing creator Kevin Molino returning from injury, the service should be more than adequate for Larin to turn in another great season.
Sophomore slump be damned.