ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s been nearly three months since Orlando City SC forward Cyle Larin played in a meaningful match. And even then, the 4-2 win over D.C. United in late October could hardly be dubbed meaningful, considering the Lions were out of the playoff race, and United was playing back-ups in preparation for the playoffs.
Since then, it’s been all about business, though. As opposed to the offseason leading up to the 2016 season, when Larin took leisure time to visit family and friends in Canada, the third-year MLS player spent most of this offseason in Orlando training.
“For the most part, I stayed in Orlando,” Larin said after training Monday. “I was training here and just to get my body work down and get back fit again from a little break… It feels good to be back with the team, see all the guys again. It was a good session today, too.”
Going into the 2017 preseason, Larin feels he is more prepared than he was entering last year’s preseason. This time around, he said he is fitter.
“A lot fitter. A lot fitter than I was at the beginning of preseason last year,” the 21-year-old Canadian said. “I think I know what to expect now more. Last year, I knew what to expect, but now…[it’s] my third year in the league now, and I think I can score a lot more goals, and I know how defenders play.”
Having the confidence to score more goals than in previous seasons and being more attuned to a league’s defensive style are matters in themselves, but Larin has also changed his own approach. For Larin, he said it’s about shooting more.
“When I get in the box, just get my head up and shoot more,” he said. “I know I can shoot more during the game. I don’t think I shoot enough, so I think I should shoot more.”
But to City head coach Jason Kreis, improvement for Larin isn’t just about improving offensively; in fact, the second-year Lions head coach wants to see improvement in all parts of his game.
“From my point of view, it’s every facet of his game,” Kreis said after training Monday. “Now it’s his third year as a pro, and he needs to move forward. He’s had a little bit of a stalling period last season, which you can expect from a young player. And now it’s about how you react to that, how you improve after that. And so we’re looking for a lot of improvement in every aspect of Cyle’s game.”
The 2017 season also marks the beginning of a new period in a new home for Larin and his teammates. Orlando City will play the 2017 Major League Soccer season in a new soccer-specific stadium in downtown Orlando.
Larin, among others, is excited to play on the new all-grass pitch.
“[Playing on grass] takes more off your body,” Larin said. “I know playing on turf was hard on your body for a lot of our players here, and some of them got injured playing on it. But, in the grass, it’s a lot better, and the ball moves better on the field. And I think our style of play fits for the grass so we can play more… I think we shouldn’t lose any home games.”
Apart from the new stadium, the club has also added new players; one, in fact, is Larin’s teammate on the Canadian men’s national team. In late December, the Lions signed All-Star Will Johnson to a two-year contract.
“It’s another Canadian here. Will’s a good player, a really good player,” Larin said. “He works hard. He works very good. Just happy he’s here, and I know how he plays, and I think he can help us a lot. He’s been in the league for a long time.”
Johnson isn’t the only one providing support for Larin. Team captain Ricardo Kaká is instilling confidence in the 2015 MLS Rookie of the Year, who has scored 31 goals in his first two seasons. According to a report by MLSSoccer.com’s Marc Serber, the Brazilian said Larin is good enough to “play in a big team in Europe.”
“It makes me feel proud,” Larin said. “It makes me feel good that someone at that level has been places and been through Europe and played at that level thinks I can do that. I just have to keep working to get there.
“I want to play in the best league in the world.”
Larin and the Lions will open their 2017 season with a home match against New York City FC on Sunday, March 5 at 5 p.m. in the club’s new soccer-specific stadium in downtown Orlando.