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Orlando City vs. NYCFC Features Match-Up of Elite MLS Strikers

It’s still the off-season, but it’s not too early to get excited about the Lions’ season opener, which features Cyle Larin vs. David Villa.

MLS: Orlando City SC at New York City FC Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The beginning of the season is still a couple of months out, but the grind of the off-season can be tiring at times. We’ve recently been boosted by the release of the full 2017 MLS schedule and the recently completed SuperDraft has provided a bit of fodder to digest, but the off-season remains the off-season — that is to say, a bit monotonous.

To break that up a bit, let’s peek ahead to the 2017 season opener set for March 5 between Orlando City and New York City FC, which will officially break in the Lions’ new ground with what has become a rivalry match-up due to the two teams’ history as expansion brethren.

There’s plenty of time left to analyze the match-up overall, which is good since rosters are still being built and the draft hasn’t even been completed — neither team’s roster is totally set for 2017 yet. The most fascinating match-up at first glance, however, is between the two established strikers that lead each attack: NYC’s David Villa and Orlando’s Cyle Larin.

The two forwards are at opposite ends of the career spectrum, with Larin a budding star about to enter his third professional season, and Villa a legendary veteran having recorded over 320 club goals in his career, along with 59 more on the international stage. Villa joined NYC for its expansion season as a worldwide star, having cultivated a stellar career in Spain, most notably with Valencia, Barcelona, and Atlético Madrid. Larin came in as Orlando’s No. 1 overall draft selection out of UConn prior to the Lions’ first MLS campaign.

They also differ widely in appearance and playing style, with Villa being a slight, pacey player with infinite skill and Larin possessing the size and power to excel in hold-up play and bully center backs with physicality, while also possessing the requisite skill to snipe shots from anywhere around the 18-yard box.

Player Goals Assists Goals/90 min. Conv. Rate
Player Goals Assists Goals/90 min. Conv. Rate
Cyle Larin 31 3 0.64 22.60%
David Villa 41 12 0.69 13.40%

Both have been among the best strikers in MLS over the past two seasons, as the above statistics illustrate. Villa has been in the running for the MLS Golden Boot in each of those two seasons, finishing second to Bradley Wright-Phillips this past season with a 23-goal tally. The Spaniard is a creative wizard and powers the NYC attack not only with his scoring, but by facilitating others, which his 12 assists show.

Larin is less of a facilitator and more of a pure scorer, oftentimes using off-ball movement to put himself in the right place to poach goals with deadly finishing — although his three assists in 2016 were three more than he had as a rookie, a marked improvement.

But while Villa has been a lethal scorer, Larin has been the more efficient striker of the pair in MLS. There is much to be said about producing 10 more goals and nine more assists over the past two seasons as Villa has, but he’s also had a much higher usage and has benefited from spot-kick duties: He’s scored 12 goals from the penalty spot to Larin’s zero.

While Villa’s 0.69 goals per 90 minutes is stellar, that total dips to a less stellar (but still very good) 0.48 goals per 90 when factoring out penalties, where he’s converted 85% of his tries with the Sky Blues. Larin’s 0.64 per 90 holds up all on its own, and is a fair bit higher than the Spaniard’s non-penalty figure. Further showing Larin’s efficiency advantage is his conversion rate, which is better than Villa’s by a wide margin.

Villa has also registered his impressive numbers on a much higher number of shots. While Villa has fired off 304 shots in these two seasons, Larin has only used 137. Part of this, of course, is attributed to Villa being aggressive — great scorers know the only way to score is to shoot, and an argument can be made that Larin should pull the trigger more liberally. But it also means the Lions could do better in providing service for their front man, too, which will hopefully continue to improve with the midfield trio of Kaká, Kevin Molino, and Matías Pérez García showing a lot of chemistry.

Both Villa and Larin have had big games against one another before, with Larin memorably dropping a hat trick at Yankee Stadium while Villa notched a brace in that same game in July of 2015. For our entertainment — and for the success of Orlando City — hopefully Larin continues his success against NYC in an attractive opening day match-up. We know Villa will bring his game with him on March 5, which is always entertaining, if not a bit scary as an opposing fan.

The off-season will be over (hopefully) before we know it.