The Orlando Sentinel reported last week that Cyle Larin has stated, “I think I’m at the right place to go play in Europe and it’s the right time. I think I’ll benefit. I have personal goals and dreams and I want to go to Europe and play. I think it’s the right time.”
With that, he appears ready to exercise an option in his contract to test the waters and not return to Orlando City for the 2018 season. To Larin, I have a statement and a question. The statement is, "Good luck, son. I hope it works out for you."
My question is, "What makes you think you are capable of playing in Europe after three years of diminishing returns in the MLS?"
Cyle Larin became a household name in MLS in 2015 when he scored 17 goals and won Rookie of the Year honors. But in 2016 Larin only scored 14 goals, and in 2017 he only managed to score 12 goals. In his first two seasons, Larin led the entire Orlando City organization in scoring, but in 2017 he was outscored in fewer games by a player nine years his senior with a lot more mileage in the legs: Marta. In 23 appearances for the Orlando Pride, Marta managed to score 13 goals, leading all scorers in Orlando City's constituent professional clubs. Larin's 12 goals came in 28 appearances and 24 starts.
I believe that MLS is a league on the rise and that every year the talent level across the league gets a little bit better and the players coming to MLS from Europe get a little bit younger. At the same time, I will not try to argue with fans who have been watching the game for decades and say there is still a big gap in talent between MLS and the top clubs in European leagues. In fact, economics would dictate that MLS has a long way to go before it can compete with the top European leagues for the best soccer talent in the world. The facts are that many European leagues have no salary caps, and on any given MLS match day you will find more kits in the stands from top EPL, La Liga, and Serie A teams than you will from the visiting opponent.
So if MLS defenders have found a way to shave 30% from Larin's scoring ability in three seasons, how much more quickly and how much further will the defenders in Europe cut his chances to put balls in the back of the net?
And for those of us who have watched Larin play over the last three seasons, we have learned he has a bad habit of taking long stretches of the match off, even when he's on the pitch. I saw in his first season that in the games when he ran from one side of the pitch to the other for the full 90 minutes he was far more effective at scoring. His constant movement kept defenders having to chase him all over the pitch and it would eventually wear them out, giving Larin more chances to be open and more one-on-one opportunities against the opposing keeper.
I'm not sure what has happened to him, but in the last two seasons, Cyle Larin has seemed to grow roots from his feet at times. Sometimes it looked like such a struggle for him to pick his feet up and run around when he did not have the ball. Then when someone would pass him the ball, Larin would act surprised that three or four defenders would be able to collapse down on him or get between himself and goal making it much harder to score.
I can promise Mr. Larin that if I could see that kind of inconsistent play while sitting in the stands or at the sports bar with a beer in my hand, then every personnel officer from every club in Europe was seeing the same thing. Frankly, I only want players on my team who will give their full effort for every minute they are on the pitch, so I really don't think Orlando City is losing much if they let Cyle Larin go.
But if he thinks he's going to go to Europe and somehow transform from a mediocre MLS striker into some kind of world-class superstar, then I think he's in for a rude awakening. If he pulls the same kind of nonsense of standing around waiting for the ball to come to him in Europe, he's going to quickly be watching everyone else get put onto the pitch while he gets loaned out to ride the bench for teams further down the European soccer pyramid, until he finds himself a perpetual substitute in the European equivalent of the NPSL or something.
In my opinion, Cyle Larin has squandered his chance to give himself an opportunity to go to a great club in Europe. The model he should have followed was to score 20 or more goals in 2016 and then dedicate himself to the goal of winning the Golden Boot in MLS for 2017 by any means necessary. That means watching the effort and energy of every player who outscored him the year before and being determined to work harder and give more effort than those players in the following season.
Instead, Larin seems to live under the delusion that his Rookie of the Year win in 2015 was sufficient to make him desirable to any club in Europe any time he wanted to leave MLS. Maybe he's worried about hurting himself by trying too hard in his second and third seasons in Orlando. Maybe he thinks that trying to help his team reach the MLS playoffs is a goal too far beneath his immeasurable talent. Maybe he thinks that Adrian Heath and Jason Kreis are just too old-fashioned to know anything and he can't learn anything from them. Maybe he thinks Kaka is an old washed-up has-been and if he wants pointers he can get them from his obvious future European teammates like Neymar or Messi or Ronaldo--or maybe the young Larin fancies that he will be the one dispensing sage advice to the older European superstars.
Of course, time will tell if my misgivings are correct or if Larin will indeed flourish in Europe. If he does manage to find success and work his way to the top leagues over there, I will be happy for him. And I will say proudly that I had a chance to see him score every one of his goals in his first year as a pro. Because, of course, that's my right as a fan: I get to choose what I cheer for and what I conveniently brush under the carpet and forget.
But right now, I've got the sinking feeling that Cyle Larin's experience in Europe is not going to be much different than his first-year teammate, Brek Shea. After making an early splash with Dallas, Shea tested the waters in Europe and wound up spending most of his time on the bench and never really being able to get much playing time before returning to MLS. It's taken two stops, but now with Vancouver Shea seems to be finally coming into his own.
So for Cyle Larin, I have just one more thing to say, paraphrasing the words of the late great Tom Petty:
Go. Just go.
But remember good clubs are hard to find.
You got lucky, Babe,
When we found you.