The 2016 MLS All-Star Game will take place tonight in San Jose, where MLS's best will take on Arsenal in an exhibition showcase. Among the MLS stars will be two Lions in Kaká and second-year forward Cyle Larin.
Kaká, a global star thanks to years of excellence for AC Milan, Real Madrid, and the Brazilian national team prior to his arrival at Orlando City, will captain the side for the second consecutive year. Larin, however, finds himself among several other big names up front such as Didier Drogba and David Villa, whose accomplishments in Europe precede them just as Ricky's do.
While Larin has made a name for himself around the league with his play through his first season and a half as a professional, he's still somewhat in the shadow of such legendary names. A comparison of the numbers, however, provides an argument that the young Canadian could be the best striker on the MLS All-Star team right now. (Qualifier: Right now means right now, there's no argument for a second-year Larin being as good as Drogba was in his prime Chelsea days, or Villa when he was scoring 150 goals in Spain for Valencia, Barcelona, and Atlético Madrid.)
Three of the MLS All-Star forwards are currently ahead of Larin in goal scoring, but when we parse the stats a bit to factor out penalty goals, Larin's effectiveness becomes more evident than his raw scoring numbers show.
|Player||Total Goals (PK Goals)||Non-PK Goals/90 Mins||Conversion Rate||Assists|
|David Villa||13 (3)||0.47||11%||1|
|Ignacio Piatti||12 (2)||0.56||23.5%||5|
|Sebastian Giovinco||11 (2)||0.49||9%||7|
|Cyle Larin||10 (0)||0.63||21%||3|
|Didier Drogba||8 (1)||0.68||16%||5|
|Chris Wondolowski||8 (2)||0.38||23.5%||2|
These numbers show how well Larin compares despite not featuring as Orlando's penalty taker, while also highlighting his conversion rate of 10 goals on just 48 total shots. Larin trails only Drogba in non-penalty goals per 90, as the Ivorian – fresh off a hat trick – is still a force when he is healthy (which hasn't been often this year), as he showed last season when he notched 1.0 non-penalty goals per 90 in his half-season cameo. How much you factor in being consistently available depends on preference, but when Drogba plays, he scores for Montreal.
Goal-scoring prowess is only part of the equation, and no one complements his scoring with facilitating and general havoc wreaking than Giovinco for Toronto, as his well-deserved MVP nod from 2015 and his seven assists to this point in '16 illustrate. Piatti has a high conversion rate and has impressive scoring numbers even without the inclusion of penalties, and David Villa is David Villa.
Selecting the best striker on this year's MLS All-Star squad isn't a cut-and-dry proposition, but the fact is that the debate is there to be had and Larin's production holds up very well against high-profile competition even though he's played without his primary midfield creator for much of the year. Larin has continued to be a bright spot for Orlando City through some mid-season upheaval, so let's enjoy him while we have him and hope he makes a splash on the big stage tonight.