VANCOUVER, B.C. — Canada Soccer’s Cyle Larin is back in North America and preparing to take on French Guiana in an all important Concacaf National League qualifying match at 6 p.m. ET Sunday at B.C. Place Stadium. It’s been an exciting time for the former Major League Soccer Rookie of the Year winner who broke into the league with Orlando City SC in 2015.
Larin’s move to Turkey’s Beşiktaş last year initially raised a lot of eyebrows. He was still under contract with Orlando, but after much back and forth secured a transfer to Beşiktaş. While his departure may have upset Orlando fans, Larin knows it was the right move for his blossoming career.
“I think that it’s been good for me to push myself to be one of the best strikers in the world one day,” Larin told to Pro Soccer USA earlier this week. “To get there, you have to play at big clubs. You have to play in Champions League, Europa League, and challenge yourself. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and I like a good challenge, so I went there, and I’m getting better everyday and developing.”
MLS has certainly made strides as it continues to grow and evolve. However, young players still dream of playing in Europe one day. It’s that long-term dream they strive for, to be on the biggest stage in some of the cathedrals of European football. That’s what Larin was looking for, and he found it.
The supporters eat, sleep and breathe the sport. It’s a way of life for the 41,188 fans that pack BJK Vodafone Park. The fan culture is off the charts. MLS, despite its growth, just hasn’t reached that level yet.
“It’s crazy. They’re fanatics,” Larin said. “It’s great to play in front of them, and when other teams come, it’s hard to play in our stadium. Even when you go to other stadiums our fans are always there and always loud. It’s one of the loudest I’ve played in.”
As he’s come back into the Canada Soccer environment, coach John Herdman has noticed a change in Larin. He is embracing the intensity and added pressure that comes with playing at a massive club like Beşiktaş.
“I’ve always seen the quality that the guys had,” Herdman told reporters following training earlier this week. “I think in speaking with him when he’s there, this sort of pressure and expectation put on him is immense. So I think he works harder on the field in the moments of defensive organization and defensive transition.
“Those are things that he might have been able to get away with in the past in previous leagues, but out there, the fans are on you the minute you’re not tracking back, the minute you’re not organized. I think he’s learned to add that to his game. I think the other thing, he’s just so calm under pressure. He just seems like everything is water off a duck’s back.”
The talent and skill set Larin has doesn’t come around in a young athlete everyday.
The 6-foot-2 Larin has the size, pace and athleticism to beat the opposition in many different ways. His next stage of development is all about anticipation, reading plays before they happen and bursting behind defenders before they know he’s past them.
“I think it’s being concentrated on the other side of the game,” Larin said describing his ever-evolving game. “I’m pretty focused on my movement, and my movement is very important. I always want to get a step ahead of the defender. Thinking quicker with the ball and off the ball. That’s important. The more you do that, the more you get better and beat players, that’s when the goals come.”
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The 23-year-old is a long way from his hometown of Brampton, Ontario. MLS was an opportunity for him to get a start professionally and showcase his abilities while staying somewhat close to home. The possibility of returning to the league is something he’s considered, even if it’s not in his immediate future.
“I’d love to come back to MLS one day,” Larin said. “I have goals and a chance to play in Europe and Champions League with Beşiktaş. I want to work hard there, and score goals there.”
Orlando City’s roster has had a massive turnover since Larin last suited up in 2017. OCSC seems to be in a state of flux as they search for an identity under new coach James O’Connor this season. Larin still keeps tabs on his former team, especially with fellow Canadian Will Johnson and good friend Dom Dwyer.
“I loved Orlando when I was there,” Larin said. I loved playing there. The fans were good to me. I started my professional career there. They gave me a lot of what I have now. I just want to thank them. I needed to go to Beşiktaş for me to develop and become a better player. I had to go to Europe.”
As he adjusts to living in Istanbul, Larin is helped by having Canadian international and Beşiktaş legend Atiba Hutchinson by his side. The two Canadians have formed a bond as only Canadians can.
“He’s been there for seven years now,” Larin said. “He’s like a king there. He helped me out a lot when I went there. He showed me around, and most of the time I’m with him. He’s still showing me around on and off the field.”
Larin doesn’t have a lot of free time, but as the weather gets warmer he enjoys getting outside and exploring the city. Unlike most young athletes, you won’t find his thumbs glued to the ever-popular video game Fortnite.
“My younger brother likes it,” Larin laughed. “I play FIFA sometimes, but I’m not really a big gamer. But I do play.”
Beşiktaş is a new chapter for Larin. And so far, he said, it’s a good one.