Drafted seventh overall in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, Richie Laryea was supposed to come in and add some much-needed depth to the Orlando City midfield. Best friends with Cyle Larin, the Orlando City front office knew about the Canadian prior to the draft and sought after him.
"We just think his upside's enormous," then Head Coach Adrian Heath said. "We've watched him very, very closely and obviously the fact that he's big friends with Cyle we've known about him a long time...Let's just hope he has the impact Cyle's had, if he does it'll be a very good first pick for us.”
Unfortunately for both Laryea and Orlando City, he has not had anywhere close to the impact that Larin has had. Since being drafted, the Canadian has played just 40 minutes with the first team, spending the majority of his time with OCB in the United Soccer League.
Down in the USL, he played in 23 games his rookie season, starting all but one. This season, he has played in 10 games so far, and is leading the team in goals, with five, while adding one assist. This is significantly better than a season ago when he failed to find the back of the net, and only tallied two assists.
Laryea’s impressive performances have made current Orlando City Head Coach Jason Kreis take a look in his direction. He has played three games with the MLS team so far, against Chicago, Real Salt Lake, and Toronto. In each game he was one of the most energetic players on the field, and he brought much of the same passion he had with OCB to MLS.
Laryea’s MLS debut came in a miserable team outing, a 4-0 loss in Chicago. After David Accam scored a penalty kick, the Canadian came on for Kaká. Orlando City took the kickoff and immediately Laryea was moving between the holes, looking for open lanes to get a pass. The pass never came and instead his team turned the ball over, and Chicago went on the counter attack, but it was Laryea who tracked back and made a sliding tackle to win the ball from USMNT member Dax McCarty. When the Lions again turned the ball over a minute later, Laryea was the first man in purple there and won the ball back in a dangerous area.
In just 40 MLS minutes, he has racked up moments similar to this, which have caused the coaching staff and players alike to believe in the 22-year-old.
“I really think he brings an energy,” said Kreis after Laryea’s most recent outing against Toronto FC. “[He] has a real energy about what he’s wanting to try and get accomplished out there. The amount of ground that he covered and the intensity that he was making his runs I think was excellent. You keep performing like that, you’ll keep getting opportunities.”
While he only played two minutes in his second game, he still provided his team energy and helped secure a rare road win. His third MLS game was no different from his first two, and Kreis hoped the Canadian would help the Lions earn a come-from-behind draw after going down 3-1. Unfortunately it was too little, too late and Orlando City suffered just its second MLS loss in the new stadium.
“It is great to see Richie on the field again for the third game,” said Kaká after the loss. “I think he is increasing and getting better every game. It is good when we have a young player like him, full of energy and another player for Jason to take advantage when we have chances to play him.”
One of his best abilities is his versatility. With the ability and knowledge to play up top, Laryea is most effective in the No. 10 position. His energy, soccer IQ, and build-up play has been huge for OCB this year, and when he was not with them, the young Lions suffered. However, his time may be coming to an end with OCB, and he is needed on the MLS side.
“I feel like it’s just about being hungry,” said Laryea after appearing in OCB’s draw against Pittsburgh on Saturday night. “I got the opportunity at Chicago and I thought, ‘listen, I just have to go out there and run my ass off, right?’ So that’s what I did, and these past games I’ve done it as well. I’ve come on and done the exact same thing and just tried to show my worth and show that I can play at that level as well.”
While he still needs some work, if he continues to improve as he has the past year and a half, Adrian Heath’s wish of Laryea having the same effect as Larin may soon be approaching. And, with Kaká in his last year of his contract and no other true No. 10 on the roster, Laryea could be the man to fill in that spot. Will he be able to change games, and be the playmaker that Orlando City needs? Only time will tell on that, but if he keeps progressing as he has been Orlando City won’t need to dive so deeply into the transfer market to improve its midfield.