TORONTO â€” With six goals in seven games, Canadian Cyle Larin arrives in Toronto in scintillating form.
He stands tied for second behind Houston’s Erick Torres in league scoring, having accounted for 60 per cent of Orlando City’s goals this season. A league-leading four have been game-winners for the Florida side, which at 6-0-1 sports the best record in MLS as it takes on Toronto FC (3-1-4) on Wednesday night.
Larin has not slowed down since winning rookie of the year honours in 2015.
The 22-year-old from Brampton, Ont., has 37 goals in 66 MLS games. Compare that to Toronto star Sebastian Giovinco who has 42 goals in 68 regular-season matches.
Larin scores a goal every 134.5 minutes, compared to one every 137.4 minutes for the 30-year-old Giovinco.
Equally impressive is Larin’s accuracy. His six goals this season have come on just 19 shots for a 31.6 per cent accuracy rate.
Giovinco, who leads the league in shots, has three goals on 40 shots for a 7.5 per cent conversion rate. Giovinco has paid for lack of accuracy with only 16 shots finding the target. Twelve of Larin’s 19 shots have been on goal.
The numbers don’t really tell the story, however. The two are very different players with the five-foot-four Giovinco spraying shots from all over the field.
The six-foot-two Larin’s strength is finding an opening in the penalty box and finishing. Five of his six goals have come from inside the six-yard box, often after outmuscling a defender for a header or finding a crease in the defence for a tap-in.
Toronto defender Eriq Zavaleta says cutting off Larin’s supply is Job 1.
“But at the same time we have to be incredibly diligent and aware of his movement in the box … The more aware we are of him, the more we can prevent service to him, I think the higher chances that we have some success with him,” he said.
For Toronto coach Greg Vanney, positioning and limiting his space will be key.
“If he has a weakness, it’s creating his own shot,” said Vanney. “A lot of his opportunities come off of service, his good runs off of the ball, him getting to spots first, him outmuscling guys, outsizing guys. … And knowing where he is at all times because he has a very good nose for the goal and a nose for where the service is going to go.”
Orlando is riding a four-game win streak that has seen Jason Kreis’s team outscore its opposition 7-2. The lone blemish on its record came April 1 in a 2-0 defeat in Columbus.
Orlando is coming off a 2-0 win Saturday over visiting Colorado that saw Kaka, returning from a five-game absence due to a hamstring injury, play for 30 minutes.
A fine front-runner, Orlando is 6-0-0 when it scores first (Toronto is 3-1-0).
With both teams at the start of busy stretches, the coaches could dig into their squad.
The Colorado win was the first of six in 22 days for Orlando while last Friday’s 2-0 win over Houston was the second of eight in 28 days for Toronto.
While Larin has been Orlando’s main man up front, former TFC goalkeeper Joe Bendik has also been in fine form. Orlando has conceded just five goals and ranks second in the league in giving up 0.71 goals a game.
One player looking forward to seeing Larin is Toronto wingback Raheem Edwards. The two played against each other growing up, with Edwards at Mississauga’s Erin Mills Soccer Club and Larin at Sigma FC.
The question now is how long Larin remains in MLS. He has said he wants to play in Europe when the time is right and his play has already drawn attention from that side of the Atlantic.
“He’s done really well,” said Toronto forward Jozy Altidore who has played in Europe and North America. “It’s never easy for a young player coming into a league where people put a lot of expectations on you. So to see him do well now two, three years in a row makes me happy, makes me proud and I hope he continues to do that.
“And I think it’s good for Canada that they have a young talented striker who has shown he can score goals.”
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press