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Way Too Early Golden Boot Analysis: How Much Will Cyle Larin Have to Score to Top the MLS Scoring Charts?

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Orlando’s No. 9 is off to a good start in the scoring department. We use history to determine what the gold standard might look like in ’17.

MLS: New York City FC at Orlando City SC Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Cyle Larin’s goal-scoring ways have been well-documented on this site — several times by me personally — and elsewhere, so we knew coming into 2017 that he was going to score goals. He did just that in the season-opening contest this past Sunday, registering the game’s only goal on a back-post header. One game, one goal, three points.

To say it’s early days would be an understatement, as only 3% of the season is complete, but it’s never too early to start looking at what Larin will need to do to win the 2017 MLS Golden Boot. After all, it might be (probably will be?) Kid Fantastic’s last season in Orlando before a European club makes the Lions an offer they can’t refuse for the rights to his services.

So let’s look back at what Golden Boot winners have done in terms of goals per 90 in the league’s history. The sample will begin from the 2005 season, which is when MLS abandoned its points system that awarded two points for a goal and one for an assist (which Jason Kreis topped in 1999). Since then, it’s been as straightforward as scoring the most goals in the league.

We’ll use goals per 90 as our metric, since the evolution of Major League Soccer has meant that the number of teams and games per season over that span has fluctuated — seasons have lasted between 30 and 34 games, and the league has had between 12 and 20 teams in this sample size, and now sits at 22.

MLS Golden Boot Averages

Year Player Total Goals G/90
Year Player Total Goals G/90
2005 Taylor Twellman (NE) 17 0.69
2006 Jeff Cunningham (RSL) 16 0.6
2007 Luciano Emilio (DC) 20 0.75
2008 Landon Donovan (LA) 20 0.84
2009 Jeff Cunningham (FCD) 17 0.8
2010 Chris Wondolowski (SJ) 18 0.7
2011 Dwayne De Rosario (DC) 16 0.48
2012 Chris Wondolowski (SJ) 27 0.86
2013 Camilo Sanvezzo (VAN) 22 0.82
2014 Bradley Wright-Phillips (NYRB) 27 0.94
2015 Sebastian Giovinco (TFC) 22 0.71
2016 Bradley Wright-Phillips (NYRB) 24 0.78

Over the course of the 12 seasons since MLS went away from the points format, Golden Boot winners have averaged 0.75 goals per 90 minutes over the course of their respective campaigns. The highest average was posted in 2014 by Bradley Wright-Phillips (0.94), with the lowest mark coming from Dwayne De Rosario (0.48).

We know that Larin is capable of hitting that average number, as he posted a 0.80 goals per 90 average in his rookie campaign in 2015. That shows how tough it is to win the Golden Boot, however, as Larin’s rookie scoring clip was high enough to win the scoring title in seven of the 12 years we’re looking at. Sebastian Giovinco took the honor in ’15 with a lower average thanks to six more MLS appearances than Larin.

Larin hit that 0.80 mark and posted 0.51 in 2016 without taking any penalty kicks, but he could definitely use some attempts from the spot if he wants to win the Boot. The four highest per-90 averages on this list have included six, five, four, and five penalty goals, respectively. Kaká has handled those duties for Orlando City the past two seasons, but with the Brazilian already sidelined to start the season, perhaps Kreis will allow the Canadian to take any penalties that may be awarded when Ricky isn’t on the pitch.

To pare it down a bit more, since 2011 when MLS moved to a 34-game season, Golden Boot winners average a 0.77 goals per 90 clip, with three of the five winners hitting 0.82 or higher.

There is always a chance that one of the league’s other premier scorers — BWP, David Villa, Giovinco, Fanendo Adi, etc. — could go off and post a near-unbeatable number the way BWP did in 2014 or Wondo managed in 2012. There’s also a chance that it could be a down year like 2011. But to start the year, it looks like Larin will need to shoot at minimum for that average 0.77 goals per 90 mark to keep himself at or near the top of the scoring list toward the end of the campaign.

So far, though, so good. 1.22 goals per 90 minutes through Week 1. That should be easy to maintain, right?