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How should Canada use Cyle Larin in the Gold Cup knockout stage?

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Octavio Zambrano has a new weapon, and now has to decide how to use it.

Marc-André Donato / Canada Soccer

When it comes to the Canadian men’s national team, Cyle Larin has become a polarizing figure. The 22-year-old MLS star is just that for Orlando City: one of the most dangerous strikers in the league. For his country, though, he tends to go missing.

There have been a variety of reasons for this, some of them on Larin and others the fault of the team around him. He hasn’t been getting the same quality of service that he does for his club, but neither has he been doing enough with what he has had to work with.

But the Canadian squad currently playing at the Gold Cup has looked different from those Larin has suited up for in the past. Under new manager Octavio Zambrano the team is more confident going forward and creating more chances. Adding another finisher like Larin to the mix can’t hurt.

Yesterday, Canada Soccer announced that Cyle Larin will be their lone call-up for the knockout stage of the Gold Cup. Here are three ways in which Canada could use the Brampton, Ont. native in the quarter-final against Jamaica on Thursday and beyond.

Soccer: International Friendly-Canada at USA Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

1. Use Larin as a super-sub

One of the reasons Canadian fans weren’t sure whether or not Larin should be called up was the fact that the current group is working so well together. Why throw a new piece into the puzzle and potentially disrupt everything that they have just built?

With that in mind, it could be wise for Zambrano to stick with the starters that have gotten him this far, leaving Larin to come off the bench. Having that kind of quality in reserve, after all, could be a potential game changer for the team.

It is worth noting that Larin has never really been a substitute during his MLS career. The 22-year-old has only made six appearances off the bench in total since joining Orlando and has only scored as a sub once. Just because it hasn’t happened often doesn’t mean it couldn’t work, however.

Canada v Honduras: Group A - 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

2. Start Larin in place of Cavallini

This is probably the least favourable option, considering what Cavallini has brought to this point in the tournament. The Peñarol striker, minus scoring, has done everything Larin has been criticized for not doing at the national team level; his hold-up play has been excellent and his ability to track back and defend corners is crucial.

Handing Larin a starting spot over him based on his name alone would be unwise, and it is unlikely Zambrano will do so. After all, like Larin, Cavallini has been a prolific scorer for his club team as well.

Regardless of Larin fits into Zambrano’s plans, Cavallini should be starting against Jamaica on Thursday. Just like Larin, the 24-year-old has proven he has a clear role the play for the national team going forward.

3. Use Cavallini and Larin together

Zambrano has been nothing if not bold with his roster selection so far in this competition. This would be his boldest move yet, one that would throw caution to the wind in a way that Canadian national team managers have rarely done in favour of attacking soccer.

On paper it sounds like a great proposition. Larin has always worked a lot better in a two-striker system, as is evidenced by his form with Orlando City. Cavallini would make a great partner with his ability to hold up the ball while Larin makes runs off of him.

Not to mention how dangerous Canada would be in the air with both of those men up top.

Here is what that might potentially look like on paper, with Canada trotting out a 4-4-2 double-six formation. This would allow Canada to keep their depth on the wings while maintaining enough defensive coverage with two holding midfielders in front of the back four.

This would, however, probably force Canada to make sacrifices elsewhere. Scott Arfield wouldn’t be able to get as far forward as he did during the group stage. Furthermore, the team would probably have to play Marcel de Jong over Alphonso Davies, their leading scorer, for better defensive coverage on the left. It’s an option, but maybe not the answer.