For some players, constant speculation about their future can be exhausting. For Cyle Larin, it’s invigorating.
The Orlando City striker’s hype train has been building steam since he set MLS ablaze in his maiden season two years ago, easily setting the MLS rookie record with 17 goals.
A gifted striker with pace, power and a nose for goal, the Canadian international eschewed the mythical “sophomore slump” last season en route to 14 more goals.
Larin’s prodigious talent and consistent performances, combined with his age (he turns 22 on April 17) have resulted in a barrage of interest from abroad. Everton is just the latest in a long line of clubs mentioned as a potential landing spot.
That transfer chatter was provided added credibility this offseason by Larin’s club teammate, who also happens to be a former World Cup, Champions League and Ballon d’Or winner.
“I think Cyle can go far,” Kaka said at an MLS media day event 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.”
The compliment did not go unnoticed.
“For a player like that to think that i can play in Europe and on a big team, it means a lot and it just motivates me to keep doing better,” Larin told Goal.
The Brampton, Ontario, native has made no secret of his desire to one day move to Europe, but he has become adept at blocking out the noise and focusing on his job on the field. One of the crucial factors in his success has been his ability, as he says, to use the rumors as fuel, rather than as a distraction.
“I think it just motivates me the more teams that are looking at me,” Larin said. “It just motivates me to keep doing better and keep scoring goals.
“Each game I have to perform. I have to make sure I’m doing that.”
Larin’s ability to survive and indeed thrive on the constant speculation has impressed veteran teammates.
"I can’t even imagine those kinds of things flying around in the news with social media these days," Will Johnson, who plays with Larin for club and country, told Goal. "The way he handles that to me is impressive. I’m not sure I’ve seen a young player handle it as well as he does.
“When that day comes [to move abroad] it’ll come, but until then he’s 100 percent focused on Orlando City and he performs every single week for us.”
Larin has never had much trouble finding the back of the net, so his focus recently has been on smoothing out other edges in order to continue his development.
Even though Orlando City is coached by one of Major League Soccer’s best ever strikers in Jason Kreis, Larin and his manager have emphasized facets of his game that don’t necessarily involve scoring goals.
“The biggest thing he’s helped me on is the defensive side of the game,” Larin said of Kreis.
“When I help my team out defensively, it helps the whole team out. When we get the ball, we’re able to attack right off of that. I think a lot of the goals we score are off winning the ball in the front and attacking immediately.”
Though his soft-spoken nature has led to him earning the nickname “Silent Giant,” Larin has also noticeably become more of a leader in his third season with the Lions.
“I like to lead on the field and like to just make sure I do my job on the field and other players will follow,” Larin said. “But I think over the two years I’ve been here now I’m able to lead more vocally and help my teammates vocally.”
Johnson, himself known for his vocal leadership, has also noticed.
“He’s taken on more responsibility, more ownership in who he is as a player and what he skill set means to a team,” Johnson said. “I think it’s very important that he realizes he needs to have a strong voice because of his playing style and his contribution to the team.”
Larin’s contribution to the team has been massive since his arrival in Orlando. But with his contract potentially expiring at the end of the season (Orlando City does hold a club option for two more seasons), Lions fans know they may need to enjoy their striker while they can. Speculation about his future has never hindered him before, and it likely won’t start now.
“I obviously know my contract is over soon but I think if I keep doing well and keep doing what I have to do, everything will play out,” Larin said.
“I don’t know what will happen. I think time will tell and if I just keep focused on the present I’ll be fine.”