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Despite Worst Career Season to Date, Cyle Larin Was Still One of the Best Strikers in MLS

Larin’s campaign was marred by an off-field incident, but some in-depth numbers reveal a better season than his career-low goal tally might imply.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Atlanta United FC John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 season didn’t pan out as Orlando City had hoped it would for star striker Cyle Larin.

The most obvious blemish on his record in year three in MLS was his June arrest for driving under the influence, which saw him enter the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program and ultimately miss three matches. That incident was certainly a disappointing lapse in maturity from the 22-year-old forward, but he seemed contrite in his apology and all indications are that he learned from his dangerous mistake.

The on-the-pitch returns also appear to be a bit of a letdown for Larin as he turned in only 12 goals, the lowest total of his short career after netting 17 and 14 in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

And now that three years have elapsed since Larin’s MLS tenure began, Orlando City is in a position to recoup a hefty two-thirds of any transfer fee that the Canadian may garner from a European club — and he says he’s ready to give Europe a try — but his off-field blip combined with a decline in production may mean that said fee could be lower right now than it might’ve been in the past when he was linked to the likes of Everton, Besiktas, Lazio, Celtic, and Anderlecht amid better runs of form.

But while the DUI stands out as a definite low-light of his season and his goal tally was a career worst, Larin was still among the most efficient and effective goal scorers in MLS in 2017. While it was the first time that Larin finished outside the top 10 on the league scoring chart, he still compared favorably to the top 10 scorers in several categories beyond his simple goal total.

Larin vs. the Field: Non-PK Goals/90

Player Goals (MLS rank) PK Goals Minutes Played Goals/90 min. Non-PK Goals/90
Player Goals (MLS rank) PK Goals Minutes Played Goals/90 min. Non-PK Goals/90
Josef Martínez 19 (4th) 2 1,528 1.12 1.01
Sebastian Giovinco 16 (T-8th) 1 2,057 0.7 0.66
David Villa 22 (2nd) 4 2,556 0.77 0.63
Nemanja Nikolic 24(1st) 4 2,946 0.73 0.61
Bradley Wright-Phillips 17 (T-6th) 0 2,560 0.6 0.6
Ola Kamara 18 (5th) 2 2,867 0.57 0.5
Cyle Larin 12 (T-19th) 0 2,169 0.5 0.5
Ignacio Piatti 17 (6th) 4 2,368 0.65 0.49
Jozy Altidore 15 (10th) 3 2,194 0.62 0.49
Diego Valeri 21 (3rd) 6 2,828 0.67 0.47
CJ Sapong 16 (T-8th) 3 2,794 0.52 0.42

What stood out most about Larin’s rookie campaign wasn’t just his record goal total for a debut season, but also his staggering efficiency in scoring from open play — he scored 0.8 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes, a torrid pace that has proven difficult to keep up. He followed that up with 0.51 non-PK goals per 90 last season and, despite the drop in total goals, just about maintained that exact pace in 2017. He played 286 fewer minutes this year than he did in 2016 (which just about translates to three full games, or the length of his DUI suspension), but when Larin is available Orlando can pretty much count on him scoring a goal every other game on average, and he doesn’t need to go to the spot to earn it.

As the chart above illustrates, Larin was level with or ahead of five of the top 10 scorers in MLS this season in goals per 90 minutes excluding penalty kicks. Even when he’s not at his best, the Canadian can create with the best of ’em from the run of play.

(Side note: Josef Martínez’s figure in this category was crazy. A ridiculous four-game stretch where he scored eight goals — including back-to-back hat tricks — inflated his average a bit, and it would’ve likely receded with more minutes, but great nonetheless. P.S. Hate you, Atlanta.)

Another area where Larin measures up in terms of efficiency is the rate at which he finishes.

Larin vs. the Field: Conversion %

Player Shots Goals Conversion %
Player Shots Goals Conversion %
Josef Martínez 67 19 28.40%
CJ Sapong 67 16 23.90%
Ignacio Piatti 74 19 23%
Diego Valeri 93 21 22.60%
Jozy Altidore 68 15 22.10%
Cyle Larin 55 12 21.80%
Bradley Wright-Phillips 83 17 20.50%
Nemanja Nikolic 118 24 20.30%
Ola Kamara 89 18 20.20%
David Villa 136 22 16.20%
Sebastian Giovinco 127 16 12.60%

Despite not getting nearly the number of shot opportunities that many of his peers did, Larin still compared similarly in terms of making use of his chances. Larin’s 21.8% conversion rate once again put him squarely in the thick of the league’s goal-scoring leaders, leading five of MLS’s top 10 scorers in that column. The other half of the top 10 scorers who rated ahead of him in conversion percentage all had at least two penalty kick attempts to bolster their averages (Larin was 0-for-1 from the spot), and as many as seven chances in one case (Diego Valeri).

In fact, only one player who registered 12 goals or more this season did it with fewer shots than Larin. That was NYRB’s Daniel Royer, who scored four of his 12 goals from the penalty spot. Subtract those four penalties from Royer’s shot attempt and goal tallies, and he converted at a 16.7% clip, well below Larin. If we subtract only three shot attempts and only three of the four goals (since Larin did attempt one penalty and failed to convert), Royer still comes in with an 18.4% conversion rate.

Of course, styles of play and team situations matter for goal scorers. Larin took 55 total shots in 2017, the lowest number of his career, but his career high of 73 last year still pales in comparison to some of the other top scorers around the league. For instance, Larin’s career average of 64 shots per season is dwarfed by players like Sebastian Giovinco (162 shots per year) and David Villa (146.6) over the past three seasons. This is to take nothing away from the effectiveness of Seba and El Guaje, who are two of the best players MLS has ever seen (not to mention different, more creative types of forwards than Larin), but who knows what Larin could do in a side where he received better service and more touches overall, as he’d have a chance to combine his efficiency with a higher volume of shots.

While the length of time that Larin will remain in purple is unknown at this point and Orlando City holds the right to cash in on its young striker whenever it sees fit, he remains one of the league’s top forwards and could form a potent one-two punch with Dom Dwyer if he stays, and if the club fits the right puzzle pieces around the duo to maximize their abilities.

But, despite the raw scoring totals, the in-depth numbers reveal that Larin was still one of the better forwards in MLS this season. Whether he stays at Orlando City or leaves, it will be up to his club to surround him with the necessary firepower to generate more scoring chances, and it’s up to Larin to stay out of trouble off the field and in contention to play as many matches as possible to turn his high efficiency into a higher goal total relative to his peers.