Canadian men’s soccer team coach Octavio Zambrano feels Cyle Larin has learned a valuable lesson and that he deserves a chance to redeem himself.
That, in essence, is why Zambrano decided to recall Larin to the Canadian team after the young forward was arrested last month for driving the wrong way down an Orlando street and was given a misdemeanour DUI alcohol charge after failing a sobriety test.
Larin, a 22-year-old forward from Brampton, Ont., was originally left of Zambrano’s 23-man roster for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. He missed three MLS games for Orlando City as he went through the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioural Health Program, while the legal matter is still pending.
Teams competing at the Gold Cup are allowed to make six roster changes at the conclusion of the group stage and before the start of the knockout round. After Canada finished in second place in Group A behind Costa Rica to advance, Zambrano decided to recall Larin ahead of the Reds’ quarter-final match against Jamaica in Arizona on Thursday. Zambrano sent Raheem Edwards back to Toronto FC to make room on the roster for Larin.
The incident in Orlando happened roughly 24 hours after Larin played for Canada in a friendly against Curacao held in Montreal. Zambrano explained he had no moral qualms about bringing Larin, who has five goals in 20 appearance for Canada and is one of the top forwards in MLS, back into the national team fold so soon after his arrest.
“I don’t want to be the person to judge. It’s not for me to do that,” Zambrano told Sportsnet. “Players are people and they make mistakes. You can only feel a sense of relief about the fact that nobody got hurt. As much as he has learned from that, and he did what he was supposed to do, I think he had to be given an opportunity because he’s a great, young man. He’s a good kid. When things like this happen the very best that you can take from it is that you grow from it and become a better person.”
“I think there would have been a dilemma [about recalling Larin] if someone would have got hurt. That would have made it a much more difficult decision.”
Zambrano kept in contact with Larin as Canada competed in the group stage, and admitted the plan was always to bring him in should the team advance from the group.
“I spoke with him shortly after this happened, and I also spoke with his MLS club, and I took everything into account, making sure that we went through proper protocol,” Zambrano stated.
“But from the very beginning we gave him our support and we told him that he needed to sort things out, and when he got himself clear-minded and went [through the MLS program], then it was going to be a call up for him. We knew that from the very beginning.”
It’s fair to say Zambrano’s side hardly missed Larin at the Gold Cup. Canada beat French Guiana in its opening game, and then went on to earn credible draws against Costa Rica and Honduras, two of the top teams in CONCACAF.
It’ll be interesting to see how Zambrano deploys Larin, if at all, in Thursday’s showdown with Jamaica after Lucas Cavallini, supported by Alphonso Davies and Junior Hoilett, earned solid reviews as Canada’s starting forward for the bulk of the group stage.
“It’s a different weapon that we have in Cyle, a different type of player that we can add to our offensive scheme. That’s good for us. He’s got some attributes that we can use. He gives us more versatility in the attack,” Zambrano offered.
Canada is through to the knockout round of the biennial Gold Cup for the first time since 2009 – it failed to win a game and score a single goal in the previous two tournaments. Zambrano was appointed coach back in March, and as this was his first major tournament at the helm. Considering the team’s recent history at this competition, serious questions lingered as to whether Canada would be able to put on a decent showing.
Zambrano, though, had no doubts.
“I think they exceeded expectations because of people reflecting on past performances of the Canadian team. But for me, it wasn’t that much of a surprise because I knew this group of players coming into this assignment, and I knew there was talent there, so you could build on that,” Zambrano stated.
“Now, how far that talent can take you, that’s another issue. But there was talent there, and that was evident from the beginning. The fact that we now find ourselves in the quarter-finals is a reflection of that talent coming together.”
Canada hasn’t reached the Gold Cup semifinals since 2007 when it lost to the United States. Canada won the Gold Cup in 2000.