Hello all, and welcome back to Husky History, a column focusing on one accomplished UConn athlete per week. Each article should detail the athlete’s accolades at Connecticut, as well as their ability to take their games to the professional level.
This week’s Husky History focuses on men’s soccer legend Cyle Larin. The striker cut his collegiate career short to pursue professional aspirations, but represented UConn well during his time in Storrs. He continues to do so in Belgium and at the international level.
Soccer was always a big part of Larin’s life, playing with his friends in Brampton, Ontario, Canada from a young age. The longtime striker didn’t always play the position he does today, starting out as a goalkeeper and moving to a variety of other spots, including center back for the Brampton Battlecats. Larin played there for three years, starting when he was eight. He said that he played up front for a game, scored three goals and became enamored with the position.
He was a star with the Battlecats, and quickly moved up to play for Sigma Academy in Mississauga. Living with two siblings and his mother, Larin found himself with a demanding schedule, and he credits his mother, Patricia, with helping him achieve his goals.
“She had to work, all the time, and take care of my brother and sister,” Larin said. “She sacrificed a lot for us and without her I wouldn’t be where I am today. When I started getting serious [in soccer], I could see it was a way to take care of my family, because we came from nothing… my mom said if I listen to these guys, I’m going to become a professional one day.”
While dreams of playing professionally are prevalent for any young athlete, at some point those dreams started looking like a reality for Larin and his friends, including longtime teammate Richmond Laryea.
“A lot of our friends were growing up and looking at the pros,” explained Laryea. “Two guys we both looked up to were Kyle Bekker and Emery Welshman, who got drafted in 2013 [by Toronto] while we were still in high school, and then Jordan Hamilton went to the pros early in 2014 [also with Toronto], so it showed us what was possible. We were watching closely and thinking ‘We could do that.’ We thought soccer could take us to the pros, so it became pretty serious.”
After leading St. Edmund Campion Secondary School to three OFSAA Championships and topping the team in goals in three seasons, Larin decided to take his talents to Storrs. He joined head coach Ray Reid in one of the top programs in the country at the time. The Huskies had just come off of an NCAA quarterfinals loss to Creighton in 2012.
Larin carved out quite the role for himself early on at UConn, starting 22 of 23 of his games his freshman year. The time up top was well deserved, as his 14 goals were the most on the team, averaging 0.61 goals per game. The American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year and the Soccer America All-Freshman First Teamer helped the Huskies to program success as well, as the team fell in PKs in the conference championship and reached the NCAA quarterfinals yet again.
His sophomore season was even more of a success. Starting in 15 of his 16 games, Larin led the team with nine goals and 21 points, and earned three game-winning goals on the year. The striker was named the American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year, helping his team to a conference semifinal appearance.
“Yeah, he’s a great young man,” former UConn men’s soccer coach Ray Reid said in 2016. “In his two years with us, he did everything we asked him to on the field and in the classroom. We’re just happy for him, really happy to see him so successful. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer kid.”
Highly touted out of college, Larin was selected No. 1 overall in the 2015 MLS Superdraft by Orlando City SC, making the Huskies the first program to produce back-to-back top picks in the draft. Goalkeeper Andre Blake was selected No. 1 the year prior.
“We believe that we’ve picked the best player in the draft,” said Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath in a club press release. “Cyle has incredible potential, and we’re looking forward to working with him.”
Heath certainly wasn’t wrong. Larin torched the MLS in his first season, winning Rookie of the Year in 2015 after a 17-goal campaign. In each of his two years that followed, the star would add another 14 and 12 scores, respectively.
The former Husky’s career took a tumultuous turn in 2017, when the star was arrested and charged with a DUI. Larin missed three of Orlando City’s games, taking part in the MLS Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. He made sure to note that this was a one-time incident, and has changed for the better.
“I’ve learned a lot by going away and taking time for myself,” said Larin upon his return. “I think I’ve learned from the mistake and I won’t ever do it again. Now, I’m ready to be back, help this team win and do something special with this organization.”
Despite a strong season, Larin decided that it was time to move on from Orlando City, forcing a sale to Beşiktaş, one of the most successful clubs in Turkey. After four successful seasons there (with one loan year at Zulte Waregem), this past July the Canadian signed with Club Brugge in Belgium’s First Division A, the top level of soccer in the country. In his nine appearances with the club thus far, he has scored one goal in his only start.
One of Larin’s latest ventures includes part-ownership of Simcoe County Rovers FC, a Canadian football club that looks to go pro. Larin, as well as Canadian soccer legend Julian de Guzman, are attempting to make it easier for kids in the Great White North to play professional soccer through clubs like these.
“Once young players have the pathway, they can get there,” explained Larin. “And that’s what really stood out to me about being the owner of a team while I’m playing. It’s always been a dream of mine to keep growing the game in Canada. When I was younger, I’d watch Toronto FC play, but not every kid can go through their academy program to get to the next level. These kids need more outlets.”
Starting after his freshman season at UConn, Larin has been quite active at the international level, playing for Team Canada since 2014. He scored the first goal for his country in a 3-0 victory over Puerto Rico in a friendly in 2015.
Lately, the Brampton native has been an integral part of the international team, helping the team reach the semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2021, and leading Team Canada to its first World Cup since their first appearance in 1986, ending a 36-year drought. What’s more, Larin tops the leaderboards with the most goals ever scored for Canada with 25. He looks to add to that total in the World Cup later this month, when his country will face Belgium, Morocco and Croatia in the group stage.