From Dennis Chin to Dom Dwyer, Orlando City has never failed to produce forwards. Orlando’s history of finding the back of the net has always kept fans entertained, but Cyle Larin is the unquestioned best striker in Orlando City history. When his time is up in Central Florida, Larin will go down as one of the greatest players to ever put on a purple jersey.
It is not a question of if he will leave, but when. On pace to become Canada’s greatest soccer player ever, Larin has caught the eye of some European giants. Most recently, it has been rumored that Everton is preparing a $2.5 million bid for Larin to replace Romelu Lukaku.
For Larin himself, it would be a dream come true.
“I've always wanted to play in Europe. Either it's now or it's later,” Larin said, per FourFourTwo. “One day I'll be there. I have dreams to play there.”
It is one thing to want to play in one of the biggest leagues in the world, it is another thing entirely to have the ability to do so, and many of those in and around Major League Soccer have no doubts that Larin will make it at the highest level.
“I think Cyle can go far,” Kaká said of his teammate in January. “Cyle is a very good player and the third season for us will be great, but I think Cyle can play in a big team in Europe as well.”
There is no doubt the guy is good. He is in the top five of goals scored since he came into the league. His composure in the box, ability to fight off defenders, and knack for finding the back of the net is what makes him one of the best forwards in MLS. Just look at his goal below from Orlando’s 2-1 win over NYCFC. With the defender all over him, Larin out-muscles his opponent to get a head on the ball, while making it all look easy.
That is what Larin does week in and week out. But he also does so much off the ball that goes unnoticed as well. Larin is always looking for where the ball will be next. He makes runs to not only try to receive the ball, but also to free up his teammates. And being a powerful, 6-foot-2, 190-pound goal scorer, he has to deal with the opposition hacking at him all game long.
It is for all of these reasons that so many people around the league are talking about Larin’s move to Europe like it’s already happened, and why Alexi Lalas spent what felt like half the game Sunday talking about what the Lions will do to replace Larin.
But there is a reason why Everton are only willing to pay a rumored $2.5 million: Larin is not yet ready for the biggest stage in the world.
The former MLS Rookie of the Year is most easily compared to Everton’s Romelu Lukaku, which is undoubtedly why Everton want Larin. If you are not familiar with Everton’s towering striker, take a look at his highlight reel below.
There are a great deal of similarities between the two strikers, the biggest being their confidence in front of goal. But the biggest difference between Lukaku and Larin is also the main reason why the Canadian needs more time to develop before his European move.
The majority of Larin’s goals come from inside the box, with fewer than four touches on the ball. He struggles to control the ball while dribbling down the field. Furthermore, when the ball is played either over the top or through the middle and Larin has to control the ball under pressure, he cannot do it. Too often he will lose the ball around midfield.
To play at the next level, strikers need to be able to control the ball at midfield, pass it off to a teammate, and allow the attack to continue forward. In addition, there will almost always be at least two defenders on them, so the fact that Larin is double marked is not an excuse.
Next, look at the highlight reel again, this time focusing in on Lukaku’s assists. His ability to feed teammates so that they are in a position to score is something that Larin needs to improve. Defenders are bigger, faster, and have a higher soccer IQ in Europe compared MLS, and as a result, Larin will need to rely more on his technical ability than his physicality. He can easily shove off most MLS defenders, but he is not good enough technically yet to beat defenders the majority of the time.
This may seem like a small difference in terms of his goal scoring ability, but if Larin cannot excel at these little aspects of his game, then he will not be productive in Europe. At that level, every attacking player can score goals. What makes the difference between a European superstar and another MLSer-gone-abroad bust is what strikers can do to extend the play when they are not in the box, and how they can bring teammates into the attack.
Larin is close, but, as the old cliché goes, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Moving abroad when he is almost at that level will lead to sitting on the bench for an indefinite amount of time, and when he isn’t playing he will not get any better. The best thing for Cyle Larin is to remain in MLS until he has those skills, so he can continue to get minutes and develop.
However, working with Kaká every day, it may not be too long before he could be the next Lukaku.