PHILADELPHIA - Ask coaches and GMs about Cyle Larin and they'll tell you he's a big talent with a big future.
But the 19-year-old Canadian forward, who could go No. 1 in Thursday's MLS SuperDraft, also wins kudos for his demeanour off the field.
"He's a great kid, we were very fortunate to have him" said UConn coach Ray Reid, who worked with Larin for two seasons. "As much as I'm going to miss him as a player, if you want the truth I'm going to miss him more as a guy. He's a very good guy."
"He's a terrific lad, first and foremost," echoed Canadian under-20 coach Rob Gale. "He's a very level-headed kid."
Orlando City SC has first crack Thursday at the six-foot-two 190 pounder from Brampton, Ont. Fellow expansion team New York City FC picks second, ahead of the Montreal Impact, San Jose Earthquakes and Portland Timbers.
With three picks in the first round — sixth, ninth and 11th — Toronto FC will be an active player whether it opts to trade some of its selections or not.
The Vancouver Whitecaps pick 13th. It's the lowest selection the team has had since joining MLS and, with five picks in the third and fourth rounds, the Whitecaps will be looking for some diamonds in the rough.
The first two rounds go Thursday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Rounds 3 and 4 will be done by telephone Jan. 20.
Larin will learn his future before Canada's game against El Salvador on Thursday at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Montego Bay, Jamaica. He has already won three caps under Benito Floro for the senior national side and is still kicking himself for a missed scoring opportunity against third-ranked Colombia.
"I rushed the shot," he lamented. "If I hit it properly, I think I would have scored."
Larin, who like Toronto FC midfielder Kyle Bekker grew up playing for the Sigma FC academy in suburban Mississauga, scored 23 goals and added six assists in 39 career games for Connecticut.
He was named American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year in 2013 after collecting 14 goals and three assists. This season, he won AAC Offensive Player of the Year honours with a conference-best 0.56 goals a game.
Canadian MLS team officials speak as one when Larin's name is raised.
"Exceptional talent," said Toronto FC GM Tim Bezbatchenko.
"He obviously has talent," added Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi.
There was speculation Larin would enter the draft after his freshman year. But he wanted to prolong his college experience — at least for another season.
He made up his mind last October, after coming in the 82nd minute of Canada's game against Colombia at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
"That just opened my eyes and I knew I wanted to leave that year," Larin said. "That was the decision right there."
Larin, who trained briefly with clubs in Belgium and Germany, mulled over going back to Europe but decided the MLS was the best place to begin his pro career.
He is diplomatic about where he might end up.
"Going No. 1 is always nice," he said. "New York or Orlando would be nice."
Receiving passes from Frank Lampard or Kaka would be fun, admitted Larin — a Chelsea fan who counts veteran Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba as another of his favourite players.
There are no nerves, just excitement. Polite and soft-spoken, Larin says his goal in his MLS rookie season is to "do my best and hopefully help out the team and see where it takes me."
Larin can play as a forward or tucked in behind a striker and likes both roles. He is fast, deft at controlling the ball and has vision — able to pick out a teammate with a pass. His tool box is full.
His college coach sees him flourishing at centre forward.
"He's mobile, he can get out to the flanks. Good with his back to the goal," said Reid. "He's dangerous in the box."
Reid says the best is yet to come.
"I think Cyle's just scratching the surface," he said. "He's athletic, he's a wonderful kid, he's got talent. But he's still young. He's still learning how to use it every day, how to be ready mentally every day. Physically, he's a work in progress. But he's got a lot of talent. He's got a huge up-side if he can get it right."
Reid knows his stuff.
In his 18 years at the UConn helm, he has seen 32 of his players taken in MLS draft. Thirteen of those went in the first round with Chris Gbandi (2002) and goalkeeper Andre Blake (2014) going first overall.
Reid, who recorded his 400th coaching win last October, is to be honoured Thursday as 2014 NSCAA East Regional Coach of the Year on Thursday as the National Soccer Coaches Association of America national convention in Philadelphia.
Gale has also mentored Larin, helping him deal with the hype. Gale is quick to note that on his team Larin "is one of 20."
"We're very realistic as a staff in that the lad is a talented boy but he has yet to go through the test of professional football ... There's no doubt he's a talented footballer. He's got great feet, he can finish. So the tools are there."
"But these next couple of years are going to be a great test for the lad," he added.
Larin wore No. 9 as a youngster, switching to No. 10 at college. Asked what number he'll wear as a pro, he shows a measure of his maturity.
"I'm going to have to earn that, to try to get the number I want," he said.
Larin enters the draft as one of five underclassmen with Generation Adidas contracts. That increases his appeal to clubs since his deal won't count against the salary cap.
He is the first Canadian to sign a Generation Adidas contract. Teal Bunbury, who has U.S. and Canadian citizenship, got a GA deal before electing to play internationally for the U.S.
NOTES: MLS has signed four more college seniors ahead of the draft. The latest to get contracts are forwards Andy Craven (North Carolina) and Akeil Barrett (Tulsa), midfielder Connor Hallisey (California) and defender Saad Abdul-Salaam (Akron) ... New York City FC has signed U.S. international midfielder Mix Diskerud on a free transfer. He spent the last three seasons in Norway with Rosenborg.
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