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Orlando City’s Cyle Larin Could Benefit from New World Cup Format

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It’ll be a while down the road, but the Lions’ star striker could be a beneficiary of the new 48-team setup.

Soccer: 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifyer-El Salvador at Canada Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

This week’s news that the FIFA World Cup will be expanding from 32 to 48 teams has come with mixed reviews. Some, like former U.S. Men’s National Teamer Carlos Bocanegra, are taking a patient approach.

“It’ll be the first time, so we’ve got to try to be open-minded that this is how it’s going to be,” he said. “I think I saw it was [16 groups of three teams], so we’ll see.

“Look, it’s going to be competitive. It’s the World Cup. People are still going to be excited about it, just kind of take it as it goes and be open-minded about it.”

Others, like our own Michael Citro, don’t need to wait and see to know it seems like a FIFA money grab.

Feels like a cash grab, doesn’t it? Expanding the field doesn’t make a lot of sense from a soccer perspective in what is already a crowded tournament – often filled with arduous travel. Technically, all countries in the soccer-playing world take part in every World Cup. We call it “qualifying.” This move adheres to FIFA’s policy of “if it ain’t broke, fix it anyway.”

No matter how you feel, though, the announcement will mean more opportunity for countries that usually aren’t able to actually qualify for the tournament — and thus, their players — to experience the spectacle. One such player is Orlando City star Cyle Larin, whose native Canada would stand a much better chance of participating in the sport’s premier international event in an expanded format.

Larin has been Major League Soccer’s brightest young star for Orlando in his two seasons, netting 31 goals while dishing three assists as a rookie and sophomore. He hasn’t matched that level of production for his national team, but he has managed five goals in just 19 appearances in his young international career, and has the potential to lead the Canadian line for a decade to come.

Canada has failed to qualify for a World Cup since 1986 — a streak of seven straight misses — and will be one of many countries that will stand a much greater chance of qualifying than it does under the current format. If the Canucks are able to take advantage and qualify in 2026 that could mean a chance for Orlando City’s front man to experience one, or maybe even two World Cups before the end of his career. At just 21 years old now, Larin would be 30 in 2026, which is still on the back end of the prime years for many strikers, and he could possibly offer some veteran help at 34 in 2030 as well.

The 2030 World Cup is extra far out at this point, but given the early returns on Larin’s career, it’s not unreasonable to believe that he’ll still be a contributing force for Canada at age 30 if he stays healthy.

All of this is speculative and many years away, of course, but Larin has already endeared himself to the Lions faithful, and I don’t think there any among us who wouldn’t like to see Kid Fantastic experience the high of playing in the World Cup, so that’s one potentially cool side effect of a ruling that otherwise seems unnecessary.