As Canada prepares for the CONCACAF Gold Cup the biggest question surrounding this side is the same one that seems to plague all Canadian teams: where are the goals going to come from?
The current edition of the national team under coach Benito Floro is trying to answer the age-old goal-scoring question by turning to a duo of promising youngsters plying their trade in Major League Soccer.
Against Dominica in the recent World Cup qualifiers Floro experimented with Orlando City striker Cyle Larin up front on his own and Tesho Akindele (2014 MLS Rookie of the Year) flanking him on the left.
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Larin is in his first year as a full professional and Akindele in his second, although FC Dallas didn’t start giving Akindele regular minutes until a couple months into the 2014 season. Despite Larin and Akindele’s relative inexperience, Floro is well within his right to place so much faith in the young forwards given their impressive numbers and the recent struggles of some of the more veteran Canadian strikers.
Tosaint Ricketts—who has been a national team mainstay for a few years now—made the move to Hapoel Haifa of the Israeli Premier League last year, and his first season numbers have been disappointing to say the least. Ricketts only managed one goal in 23 league appearances for a pitiful goal scoring record of 0.06 goals per 90 minutes.
Simeon Jackson—another national team veteran—was at Coventry City in England’s League One this past season, but has since been let go after scoring only 0.22 goals per 90 minutes in league play.
Marcus Haber of Crewe Alexandra also played in England’s League One in 2014-15. After a few rough seasons for Haber he had a bit of a bounce back year scoring seven times for a mediocre record of 0.28 goals per 90 minutes.
Ricketts, Jackson and Haber are the “established” forwards that will be traveling with Canada to the Gold Cup, so given their disappointing and in some cases disastrous 2014-15 seasons it is no surprise Floro has shifted his focus to the younger players such as Akindele and Larin.
Akindele’s goal scoring record in MLS with FC Dallas has been decent enough. In 2014, he scored seven goals for an average of 0.36 goals per 90 minutes. For any Canadian forward a record of one goal in three games is pretty good. That being said he’s had a bit of a drop off this season averaging only 0.29 goals per 90 minutes.
Over his two years in MLS, Akindele has averaged 1.51 shots per 90 minutes, which isn’t a great total as a goal scorer, but not bad for a winger. Akindele has also registered a few assists in his MLS career so his abilities aren’t limited to those of a goal scorer, yet he still has a better goal scoring record than any of the “established” Canadian attackers while playing in what is almost certainly a higher quality league.
If Akindele provides the Canadians with a glimmer of hope then they must be practically bursting with excitement about Larin.
Larin is a product of the Sigma FC Academy, who plays in the new Ontario League One. He has been held up as a shining example of the development capabilities of both the academy and the league itself, and with good reason. Since being selected first overall in this year’s MLS draft he has scored six goals for Orlando City and three for Canada.
Larin is averaging 0.64 goals per 90 minutes and he’s doing it on the back of 3.08 shots per 90 minutes. The sample size is admittedly small, but there is evidence to suggest this goal-scoring pace—or at least something close to it—is sustainable.
If we look at Larin’s Expected Goals (ExpG) we get a better idea of the actual chances he’s been creating for himself. ExpGs assign a probability of each shot being converted into a goal based on factors such as distance to the goal, angle to the goal, speed of attack and part of the body. For example, a shot with a 30 percent probability of being scored based on these factors is worth 0.3 ExpG.
Larin has 4.45 ExpG this season in MLS, for an average of 0.47 ExpG per 90 minutes. This is lower than his raw goals per 90 minutes rate—suggesting that Larin may not be able to keep up this electric form—but one goal every two games is still a pretty impressive record for a 20-year-old from Brampton, Ont.
So where are the goals going to come from for Canada this summer? If Canada does have a successful Gold Cup then we’ll likely see Cyle Larin and Tesho Akindele’s names pop up more than a few times on the score sheet and looking at how the two have performed thus far in their short MLS careers the idea doesn’t seem too farfetched.
Expected Goal numbers courtesy American Soccer Analysis. Data courtesy of TransferMarkt.com.
Sam Gregory is soccer analytics writer based in Montreal. Follow him on Twitter