Cyle Larin tried his luck on ice as a kid before handing in his skates for cleats.
Hockey, not soccer, was the sport of choice growing up in Brampton, Ontario, about 25 minutes outside of Toronto, but Larin always wanted a ball at his feet and he played soccer often with his father, a native of Jamaica.
"Soccer was always there," Larin said. "I played hockey because it was a thing at that time."
Turns out Larin picked the right sport.
The 19-year-old striker was drafted by Orlando City with the No.1 overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft in January. Just six games into his professional career, the former UConn star is in line to get his first MLS start on Sunday in Portland against the Timbers. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. and the game will air on ESPN2.
"Hopefully I can take it and do something great with it," Larin said.
The plan was to bring the rookie along slowly by Orlando City, which initially had the luxury to ease the teen into his pro career. Injuries and other issues have forced Larin into the picture, however, and he has performed well during his two appearances with the Lions this season.
Larin created a couple chances during a 19-minute stint against Vancouver, nearly finding the winning goal if not for a stellar save from the Whitecaps' David Ousted. Last week, after subbing on for injured Pedro Ribeiro against D.C. United, Larin again put himself in good spots, though he rushed his best chance of the evening and missed the frame after being set up by Kaká.
Those experiences are chalked up as learning moments for the youngster, however. Larin is still figuring out how to deal with the faster pace and physicality at the professional level.
"One thing we can't give them is experience," Orlando City coach Adrian Heath said. "They have to learn that on the job. It's a fact of life. He will certainly start to understand when he's got to be quicker and when he's got to be slower in the penalty area. If he can keep getting in the right positions, I'm convinced he can score goals."
Larin has impressed Heath through the early portion of the season. The Canadian target striker has worked himself into better fitness and now has a grasp on the day-to-day work needed to compete at the professional level.
The atmosphere with the Lions — practicing along with veterans like Kaká and Aurélien Collin — has gone a long way in aiding Larin's education, Heath said. With Larin, who recently netted his first international goal for Canada during a win over Puerto Rico, the natural talent has never been a question.
"One thing about Cyle is he's a huge body, he's another one getting fitter by the day, he's got so much more to learn and to give," Heath said. "You very rarely get kids who are 6-3, 6-4 who can move as well as he does. He's got great feet, lovely soft feet and if I was trying to pick a center forward with all the attributes, Cyle's got virtually all of them. He's going to get better. He's going to be a top center forward for Canada and for us in this league."
The same skills might not have translated as well on ice, but Larin now has a chance to be the source of his country's pride in another sport as Canada's potential star striker of the future.
"It just excites me to be the No. 9 for Canada and to play for Canada and score some goals," Larin said. "I get excited, not nervous. . . . It just motivates me to be better every day."Copyright © 2015, Orlando Sentinel