Cyle Larin was one of the best strikers in MLS as a rookie, regardless of experience, but he was especially lethal in New York City. In two trips to the Big Apple – one of which was technically New Jersey, but we're counting it – Larin scored six of his rookie-record 17 goals, which had reporters wondering this week what it was about NYC that brought the best out of the Canadian ahead of Orlando's return trip to face New York City FC.
"It's a nice place to play in New York," Larin said in a post-training interview Tuesday. "I think every time I go there I get excited and I put the ball in the back of the net."
Excited may be an understatement.
Not only did Larin put the ball in the back of the net in Orlando City's two matches at Yankee Stadium and Red Bull Arena, but he did so with ruthless efficiency. Larin literally could not miss, notching his six goals on only six shot attempts, three in each match – a ridiculous 100 percent conversion rate. Larin's 26.6 percent conversion rate for the season placed him among the league's most prolific scorers, with only names like Robbie Keane and Obafemi Martins ahead of him in that category, but he put on absolute finishing clinics when the Lions traveled to NYC.
This is made even more impressive when we look back at the goals he scored in those two games, several of which were among the best he scored all season long and were high-difficulty finishes.
On Larin's first goal (0:20 mark) at Yankee Stadium, where the Lions will play NYCFC this Friday, he had to execute a series of brilliant touches just to set up the precise left-footed finish into the bottom right corner from 16 yards. He displayed incredible control to bounce the ball lightly with his head twice while executing a turn to get inside of defender Jefferson Mena before knocking the ball down with his chest, taking a single right-footed touch to gather and then firing home. Ridiculous.
After using a good, direct run at goal to get on the end of a Carlos Rivas cross for his second goal (0:49 mark), Larin dazzled once again with his third goal (1:36). After being played in by Kaká, Larin took advantage of two frozen NYC defenders who appeared ready for the striker to dribble rather than shoot, and unleashed a right-footed snipe into the top right corner with his second touch from the edge of the 18. Another Goal of the Week-type finish, ho hum.
A David Villa brace would ultimately power NYCFC to a 5-3 win in that July 26 match, but the loss didn't deter Larin on his return to New York to face Red Bulls on Sept. 25.
Larin set the rookie scoring record on this night with his first goal, a 24th-minute header that was far from a tap-in, a redirected effort that traveled all the way across the face of goal from the 6-yard box at the near post. His second (0:33) was a scorcher set up by a great Rivas ball after a beautiful bit of build-up from the Colombian and Kaká, which Larin buried in the corner of net past Luis Robles.
He had plenty of room to operate on his third score of the evening (1:16) after once again being set up by Rivas, but Larin once again left zero doubt with a nasty top-shelf finish to cap his scoring contribution in the 5-2 rout of NYRB.
Across those two matches, Larin accounted for 66 percent of Orlando's shots on frame and led the charge to an eight-goal total for Adrian Heath's men at MLS's New York-based clubs.
After losing in their first trip to the tiny pitch at Yankee Stadium, Larin and the Lions will look to reverse their fortunes this time around, but they would be absolutely thrilled if their star forward's New York mojo carried over into the 2016 season. His ridiculous finishing rate against New York foes is unsustainable, but the second-year striker has shown the same flair for finishing with his two goals in City's first two contests of the new campaign and appears poised for another big year.
Orlando City will be hoping that a leaky NYCFC defense and the bright lights of the Big Apple mean Larin's season will get even bigger come Friday night.