The last few years have been tough on fans of Canadian soccer.
Successive underwhelming Gold Cups, the 'best midfield in CONCACAF' passing their prime, further frustrations in World Cup Qualification, and player defections, not to mention the match that shall not be named. But in the background, a solid core of young talent has come to the forefront.
There is no need to read out the roll call, readers of Canadian Soccer News will be well aware of the names, but with Qualification for the 2018 World Cup underway, and Canada suffering through a lack of goals, one player stands atop that list: Cyle Larin.
Playing with Orlando City SC in MLS after a stellar NCAA career at UConn, Larin has racked up 11 goals through 21 appearances in his rookie season to sit on the cusp of a new record for the last five matches.
He looked to have set the mark on the weekend in Chicago, but the tally was deemed an own-goal off Fire defender Eric Gehrig, despite claims from Larin to the contrary. No need to worry, Larin has seven games remaining to achieve the feat.
In ten caps for the National Team, Larin has already netted three goals, scoring in a friendly against Puerto Rico in March before taking chances in each leg of the Second Round series of 2018 Qualification against Dominica.
He, like the rest of the side, failed to score in this summer's Gold Cup, despite a glorious chance or two, but that has done little to diminish the hope that Larin represents.
The question remains: When was the last time Canada had a potential striking talent like Larin in their midst?
For TSN Analyst Jason deVos, the answer came quickly: “The one, from looking back over the last 20 years or so, that really stands out, would be someone like Tomasz Radzinski, who scored goals at a young age in the old CSL and then went overseas and had success there and then joined the Canadian team.”
“He was the one,” continued deVos, “that everyone looked at as being somebody that could score goals for the best part of a decade for Canada. He certainly had his ups and downs with the National Team, given his situation in Europe at the time, but someone like Tomasz, who was an exciting prospect as a youngster” was the answer.
Radzinski, who enjoyed a stellar, if migratory, career in Europe – he scored some 190 goals in 500 appearances (according to Wikipedia, apologies) – was limited to 46 appearances for Canada over a fourteen-year span, scoring ten goals.
“Cyle has that same level of excitement about him” noted deVos, though he was quick to point out Larin is, “a much different player,” with “a much different style of play.”
A historical side note worth pointing out is that the only previous time Canada and Belize have met – back at a similar stage of qualification for the 2006 World Cup – Radzinski scored in both legs.
As to whether deVos expects Larin to get the start against Belize on Saturday, he was less certain, “It's a hard one. You put a lot of pressure on a kid. The National Team program has been starved for success for a long, long time now, and it's difficult to just throw a youngster in there and expect him to score goals right from the get-go.”
Over-expectation led to some minor soul-searching over the miss against El Salvador in the opening match of the Gold Cup, but deVos whisks away such reactionary despair, “I don't think that he should lose any sleep over that, every player makes mistakes, the important thing is that they learn from those mistakes. Given what I've heard from his coaching staff in Orlando, he's certainly learning, so I would certainly think he'll be in contention to start.”
“Looking at that first series with Belize, it's one that we have to win, and to do so you have to score goals, and someone like Cyle Larin has proven he can do that, It's going to be a wait-and-see, but I won't be surprised at all if he's leading the line when it comes time to play Belize.”
That is a decision that Benito Floro will have to make ahead of Friday's match.
In the first post in this series, the Story behind the 'C' in Cyle was explained.
Rest in Peace Graham, we owe you a huge debt of gratitude for sharing your passion for the game with a generation of Canadians.