Canadians Abroad: Is Cyle Larin Canada's in-form attacker?

Malmo's Soren Rieks, right, jumps for a header with Besiktas forward Cyle Larin during a Europa League match. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

There was a time when it was a matter of "when" and not "if" Cyle Larin would break the Canadian men's national team's all-time scoring record. This was during Larin's 2015 rookie campaign with Orlando City, when the forward alum registered four goals in nine games that year.

Many figured Larin would be a staple for the national team for years to come. This was further enhanced by his 43 goals in 87 appearances across three seasons in Orlando, eventually leading to a complicated transfer to Besiktas in January 2018.

But Larin struggled to make an impact in Turkey. It was clear that moving to a Turkish Super Lig giant and Champions League qualifier in Besiktas proved to be too big of a jump. There were certain off-the-ball attributes that he was lacking to be a reliable striker at a club of that stature.

Then a loan to Belgian side Zulte Waregem last season rejuvenated Larin's career. Often deployed as a second striker, the 25-year-old posted seven goals and four assists in 29 appearances, but the Canadian forward finished the year a more polished player. He was incisive around the box, improved his first touch and became a decent playmaker as well.

Several Belgian clubs were linked to Larin, with Besiktas willing to sell him during the summer. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced teams outside the big five leagues to save their money, so Larin stayed in Turkey.

Despite a transfer not panning out, Larin has received a respectable chunk of minutes so far this season. In fact, he went into the international break on a three-game scoring streak, increasing his overall tally to five on the year across all competitions.

But this hot streak has coincided with another change in position as an inside forward cutting in from the left wing.

Cyle Larin's heat map with Besiktas this season. (via Wyscout)

As a striker, Larin hasn't been relied on to create chances compared to his time in Belgium, so there's an obvious decline in expected assists (xA) but his expected goals (xG), shots and aerial wins have increased from last season.


Cyle Larin's statistical radar in all competitions with Besiktas this season.

One reason behind the increase in xG and shots is very obvious. Larin is closer to goal, which will lead to more involvement. But in the following clips, he's alert to the play, enabling him to execute and time his runs into the box. This wasn't always the case before last season.

The following clip showcases Larin's confidence in full. He's incisive, aware of his teammates' positioning to hit a first-time pass, awaits a cross and finishes well after winning yet another aerial duel.

Most of his touches in the attacking third are in central areas, despite lining up as a winger. But Larin can provide cover for left-back Fabrice N'Sakala in that role, then cut inside onto his dominant right foot when Besiktas break forward and provide extra firepower centrally.

It's also beneficial for N'Sakala. He can make an overlapping run with Larin and they take turns moving inside while the other stays on the wing. This creates overloads in the middle and if it doesn't, Larin ends up occupying a central role with striker Vincent Aboubakar.

Overall, the tweak will help Larin long term. He's averaging more touches in the box (5.65 compared to 4.27 as a No. 9) and shots in the new role. That added involvement at Zulte Waregem was massive for Larin's development. Having that same luxury at Besiktas is the next step.

BITS AND BOBS

• With Bev Priestman taking over as head coach of the Canadian women's team, the new boss has a short runway until the Tokyo Games next summer. Luckily for Priestman, she has a number of players thriving abroad at the moment. Jessie Fleming and Janine Beckie are making an impact off the bench at Chelsea and Manchester City, respectively. Adriana Leon has started seven times for West Ham this season and has been a livewire on the pitch. Defenders Shelina Zadorsky (Tottenham), Kadeisha Buchanan (Lyon) and Ashley Lawrence (PSG) are first-team regulars as well. The likes of Quinn and Lindsay Agnew are killing it in Sweden, too.

• Keep a close eye on Benfica striker Cloe Lacasse, who is in tremendous form. The 27-year-old received Icelandic citizenship, but does not meet FIFA's requirements for eligibility. If that prevents Lacasse from playing for Iceland, then Canada should pounce on this opportunity.

• Alphonso Davies is optimistic that he'll be fit again sooner rather than later. With Joshua Kimmich injured until January, David Alaba could temporarily replace Kimmich in midfield with Lucas Hernandez filling in at centre-back with Davies at left-back upon his return.

• If there were matches for Canada this month, Stephen Eustaquio would have to start in a deep-lying role based on his form in 2020. He was arguably Pacos de Ferreira's best player last season and that's carried into the new campaign. Eustaquio's ability to break lines with his passing, bypass a high press and his activity off the ball make him an ideal candidate to be Canada's long-term replacement for Atiba Hutchinson.

• How is Atiba Hutchinson 37 years old? The man is not human. To produce at a high level every week at a big club like Besiktas, and in an attacking midfield role these days, is extraordinary. I recapped Hutchinson's previous season in Turkey, and there's been little change in 2020-21, other than the slight positional tweak in the odd game.

• As expected, Manjrekar James has earned a couple of appearances with Midtjylland playing in the Champions League. Unfortunately, James has been poor in those games. He couldn't cope with Nordsjaelland's attackers in transition, then he followed it up with a mediocre showing against second-tier HB Koge in the cup. With added depth at centre-back, James' opportunities may become few and far between if that form continues.

• Speaking of centre-backs, 23-year-old Frank Sturing is earning regular minutes at Den Bosch in the Eerste Divisie, Holland's second division. I analyzed Sturing during the summer if you'd like to read more about him. He could be an option for the future.

• Canada suddenly has a plethora of right-backs, almost out of nowhere. Richie Laryea, Zachary Brault-Guillard and Alistair Johnston enjoyed solid seasons in MLS, while Juan Cordova is a regular at Huachipato. However, Cordova's form has been inconsistent since the season resumed in Chile. He hasn't been as impactful in the final third, but he's been a rock defensively. But as long as Cordova is playing, there'll be a healthy competition at right-back when the national team reconvenes.

Juan Cordova's statistical radar with Huachipato this season in all competitions.[/caption]

• It's a wonder why Sam Adekugbe hasn't received more opportunities with the national team. Kamal Miller has grown into the left-back role at Orlando City, but Adekugbe has the attacking prowess to be a threat on both sides of the ball. He's staying fit and playing every week for Valerenga in Norway, so Adekugbe has to be in consideration for a starting role.

• Toronto FC youngsters Noble Okello and Rocco Romeo are establishing themselves on loan in the Danish second division at HB Koge. Romeo was thrown into the lineup almost straight away and has done well apart from his two yellow cards in Koge's win over Vendsyssel on Oct. 24. Other than that, Romeo has been sturdy defensively since arriving. He routinely pushes high up the pitch to contest a duel, but has the recovery speed to close down an opposing attacker in transition.

If there's one critique in his game, it's Romeo's cautious approach on the ball. Out of the league's 33 centre-backs with at least 400 minutes, Romeo ranks 29th in progressive passes per 90 minutes (5.22) and 27th in passes to the final third per 90 (4.42). Modern-day defenders are operating as deep-lying playmakers, so it'd behoove the 20-year-old to adapt in that regard.

As for Okello, he shows an incredible ability to read the game and make the crucial defensive interventions. That's evidenced by the 20-year-old ranking seventh among league midfielders with 300 minutes or more in possession-adjusted interceptions this season. Quickly covering ground with those long strides is a huge advantage, too. I'll be watching to see if he becomes more active in possession as the season continues, because there's little evidence of Okello dominating games in that area thus far.

• A pair of CPL players are on short-term loans, too. York9 FC's Michael Petrasso joined Barnet in the English fifth tier, where he's scored four goals and has been pivotal to the team's progression to the second round of the FA Cup. FC Edmonton striker Easton Ongaro, meanwhile, is at struggling Vendsyssel in the Danish second division. Ongaro hasn't scored, although he's adapted quickly. He's shown off his technique and vision, but still lacks the strength to win aerial duels with defenders or when shielding the ball.

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