Heath: Larin has potential to shine in Europe

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Adrian Heath coached Cyle Larin in his first 18 months as a pro. Heath, a top scorer for Everton in the 80s, says Larin can thrive in the Premier League.

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By Adrian Heath, as told to Paul Tenorio

Editor’s Note: Heath coached Cyle Larin at Orlando City through the 2015 season and part of 2016 before being fired by the Lions.  

The first thing I remember about Cyle Larin is that he was bigger than I thought.

That may seem funny. You see his stature and he’s listed at 6-foot-2, or whatever it may be, but he looks bigger than that when you first see him. When I saw him on the grass for the first time, I could tell he was a comfortable mover, which was nice to see. And then he was quicker than you might think. But then the one thing we noticed early on in training was that he didn’t really use his size or speed. We used to say to him, ‘You’ve been blessed with this great athleticism, don’t give them a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card by not using what you’ve got.’

I’ve always liked to work with strikers. I played it all my life, it’s one of the things I like to do. And my God, you saw right away this kid has a huge upside.

Really good feet, lovely soft feed. A fantastic spring. Not only is he big, but he’s quick. And then he wanted to get better. He wanted to stay out there longer and work. He wanted to watch video. There are a lot of kids who say they want to get better, but aren’t prepared to do what it takes. He stayed out longer, he ate better, he would look after his body. We’d watch every touch of his from every game. And I realized, he does want to get better. As a coach, that’s a great feeling.  

Right away we needed to get him in better physical condition, and through no fault of his own. When you’re only playing four or five months out of the year you’re just not physically in as good shape as you should be. He probably in them early days lost six, seven, eight pounds from when we first got him in. We wanted to make him physically better, better aerobic capacity. He had pace and we wanted to get him to a stage when he could do that more often.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Cyle would surprise you. During the Ponte Preta friendly he came running down the sideline right past the dugout and beat the defender to the end line and we scored and the coaches all raised our eyebrows and looked at each other like, ‘What was that?’ We got the stats the next day and it was the second-fastest sprint in MLS that year. Then we realized, he’s not only quick, but he’s seriously quick. But we hadn’t seen that from him before. I called him into the office and showed him and said, ‘Hey, we need to see this more often.’ And during physical work in training I used to let him know, ‘We expect you to win every run this morning.’ And he did. He started to take that on-board. It’s a learning process and that was another building block. It’s no good being blessed with that lovely natural speed that only certain people get and then not using it. That’s a crime.

And then we had to get him mentally prepared to start to be a pro. That’s one thing you overlook when you get college kids. Mentally they get so stressed halfway through the season because they’ve never played that much football with that much intensity. And Cyle was thrown into the equation where he was the main goal-scorer and had a huge responsibility on his shoulders in our first year in MLS. With all the ‘make the playoffs’ talk. As a young guy up top with that responsibility to be our go-to scorer, we had to get him mentally right. We used to give him a couple days to go off, go away and go home and relax and recharge your body and your mind.

He started to take the information on. Just look at how far he’s come with controlling the ball in the middle of the field. I said to him what I used to say to Dom Dwyer, and it’s something that stuck with Dom. I said, ‘You want to score so badly and yet you’re so careless with the ball in the middle of the field. If you lose the ball, you can’t get it in the box.’ If you watch Dom now, he’ll be fighting to keep possession, because not only does it help the team advance the ball up the field, but he’s the one getting the chance in the box. I’ve seen Cyle get so much better at that.

And then we’d watch video together. We watched Careca, the Brazilian, and talked about off-the-ball movement. The back post runs. I always talk to forwards about making two runs: one’s for him, the defender, and one’s for you. It’s where you want them to think you’re going to go, and where you end up. You’re running people and taking them into areas you know you’re not going to end up. Because the higher up you go in football, the chances come fewer and far between. Sometimes you have to create them yourself and make them by being cleverer than the guy you play against. It’s not always about bigger and stronger the higher you go.

His second goal at New York last year, the hat trick, he went for a near-post run and then Carlos Rivas went to cross the ball and then at the last minute, Cyle checked off the back shoulder and inside-footed it inside the post. I think I got as much satisfaction out of that goal as he did. That was something we worked on over and over. Being off the back shoulder, pulling off that defender. And now it’s second nature.

I look at where he is now and I don’t believe there is anyone in MLS with the same upside. He’s on 14 goals now and he had 17 last year. If you go through them he’s scored them in every which-way: overhead kicks, two-yard tap-ins, scuffed shots and screamers into the top corner. He’s got a bit of everything in him. And he doesn’t just score a lot of goals, he scores important ones. And that’s huge. He’s got enormous potential. He’s going to get stronger, faster, wiser.

Last year he told me his goal was to play in Europe. We spoke about it the first day. I told him it takes hard work and he’d have to commit himself and be dedicated and he’s done that. I’ve worked in the Premier League and the English Championship. I still spend time there when I take time off and go to Everton or elsewhere and watch them up-close in training. I have no doubt in my mind if he stays committed to the process he can achieve being at one of them clubs. And he can be successful there.

When I look back on the first time I saw him play soccer – UConn vs. St. John’s, up in New York – to where he is now, it’s incredible. I give him an awful lot of credit for the work he’s put into that. And the satisfaction you get as a coach watching them improve and move on and get better? That feels good.

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