Canada's Cyle Larin scoring goals, turning heads with Besiktas in Turkey

·4 min read

Cyle Larin's European adventure has proved both challenging and rewarding.

The Canadian international forward rode out the bumps and is now turning heads and scoring goals. Larin is joint top-scorer in the Turkish Super Lig with 10 goals this season (with two more in other competitions). His team, Besiktas, is top of the table at 11-4-1.

And while the 25-year-old from Brampton, Ont., is feeling the confines of the global pandemic like everyone else, he is getting to spend time with partner Shalaine and their seven-month-old twin daughters Caylee and Cylie.

"Life, obviously, with COVID it's hard right now," he told The Canadian Press. "But the football and everything else it's good … My dream was to play in Europe and I'm here. It wasn't just to play in Europe and not do anything obviously. I wanted to play in Europe (and) score goals and make a name too like I did in MLS.

"I don't think I'm done yet."

Larin has worked hard for his success in Europe, after three successful seasons with Orlando City in Major League Soccer.

A messy divorce with MLS resulted in the transfer to Besiktas in January 2018. While he had four goals in four games in his partial first season with the Istanbul team, he was restricted to one goal in two starts and 10 appearances off the bench the next year.

Adapting to the cauldron of Turkish football took time, he admits.

A loan to Belgium's SV Zulte-Waregem proved to be the tonic needed. Larin was revitalized, scoring nine goals and adding 11 assists in 33 appearances in all competitions with the Belgian side in 2019-20.

"Just to go there and score goals and find my form again, that really helped," he said. "I came back to Besiktas and I knew what had to be done. And mentally, physically, I was prepared."

Larin, whose contract at Besiktas runs through June 2022, has kept scoring since returning to the Black Eagles.

On Wednesday, he accounted for four goals in Besiktas' 6-0 demolition of Caykur Rizespor. And he did it in typical Larin fashion, finding creases in the defence and punishing opponents for their mistakes.

According to BEIN Sports, Larin had 33 touches, five shots and an assist against Rizespor.

"I was just enjoying my football on the field," he said simply. "That's the most important part. And enjoying (it) with my teammates. And once I do that, I know I will score in these games."

Besiktas and Istanbul rivals Galatasaray and Fenerbahce have traditionally dominated the Turkish league, with more than 50 league titles between them, although Istanbul Basaksehir won the championship in 2020 and was runner-up in 2017 and '19.

Besiktas has a distinctly Canadian flavour with Larin and veteran midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, a Canadian soccer icon, playing important roles.

The 37-year-old Hutchinson, who has represented Canada 84 times at the senior level, has been at Besiktas since 2013 and is beloved by its fans.

"He was a big help to me," Larin said. "I thank him for that."

Prior to the lockdown, Larin was able to enjoy life in Istanbul. "A beautiful city," he said.

And one that loves its football.

"They live and breathe soccer here," he said.

And while going out is rare these days, Larin turns heads on the street,

"It's very hard to walk around and not get recognized," he said.

The fervent Besiktas fans, however, are currently barred from filling Vodafone Park, the team's impressive 42,500-capacity home, due to pandemic restrictions. Larin misses them.

"It drives me sometimes, with the fans there," he said. "And then you had to learn to play without them. Now the whole world has to do that right now. Hopefully it gets better and they can start coming back slowly."

Larin has been playing a variety of attacking roles for the Black Eagles, deployed on the left, right or at the top if the attack. That includes playing up front alongside Cameroon striker Vincent Aboubaka.

While Besiktas is flying high now, it suffered a painful penalty shootout exit from the Europa League in September at the hands of Portugal's Rio Ave.

Besiktas (11-4-1) plays Sunday at sixth-place Hatayspor (8-5-3) before hosting Galatasaray on Jan. 17.

Larin was taken first overall by Orlando in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. The University of Connecticut product was a hit right out of the box, winning rookie of the year honours with a 17-goal campaign — which remains a league rookie record.

He added 14 goals in 2016 and 12 in 2017 before making the move to Europe.

While Canada was grounded for almost all of 2020 due to COVID,-19 Larin is looking forward to a busy 2021 on the international front with World Cup qualifying and the Gold Cup on the schedule.

"We have a lot of very good young players. And older players too," he said. "I think the players that play in Europe and players playing in (North) America, we jell well … It's good competition."

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2021

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press