Richie Laryea finished 2018 clubless and wondering where his footballing future lay. A career that had promised so much after his selection by Orlando City SC as the 7th overall pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft had become derailed, as he was released and told that he was not good enough to play in the league.
Fast forward 11 months and the 24-year-old is on the verge of playing in his first MLS Cup, having also established himself as a starter with the Canadian national team. It’s been quite the journey for the amiable Sigma FC product.
“It’s been a crazy, for sure,” Laryea told reporters at TFC training on Saturday. “It’s been a good year for me, but more importantly, collectively for Toronto and Canadian soccer. There’s been too many things happening to me to put into words, but I’m very happy with how the year’s gone versus where I was at this time last year.”
Laryea’s MLS dream had soon turned to a nightmare. Initially loaned out to USL side Orlando City B for his first season as a pro, he expected to be back in the mix for his sophomore season. Instead he was once again loaned out before being recalled in the summer to make his MLS debut as a second half sub in Orlando’s 4-0 defeat at Chicago, replacing the legendary Kaka.
Laryea made 11 sub appearances that season before finally getting his first start in the last match of the season, a 6-1 shellacking at Philadelphia. That was to be his first of only three starts he made for Orlando in his three seasons in Florida. He had three head coaches during his time in Orlando (four if you include the two interim spells for Bobby Murphy). Three was definitely not the magic number for the Toronto native.
Each time there was a change at the top he had to try and prove his worth to a new manager, hard when you’re not getting much playing time. In the end his latest boss, James O’Connor, decided that Laryea didn’t have a future in Orlando and his contract option was declined in late November last year. It may not have felt it at the time, but as it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened to his career.
Laryea headed home and spent the 2019 preseason on trial with his hometown Toronto FC, eventually signing for the club in March. He made his debut two weeks later but it was heading into the summer months when opportunity really arose for him with players away at the Gold Cup and TFC trying to manage a spell of five games in 15 days.
Transitioning from a midfielder to a left back, Laryea was about to have a career year.
“Richie Laryea really came around over the course of the summer because he got a ton of minutes,” TFC head coach Greg Vanney told reporters at his team’s final press conference before the MLS Cup. “He was able to learn a new position and really excel. He’s been fantastic.”
Twenty regular season appearances, 16 of them starts, was followed by three substitute appearances in TFC’s run to the MLS Cup, including a goal in their first round victory over D.C. United.
Laryea’s form with Toronto has also provided a major boost for the Canadian national team.
The 24-year-old had previously featured with Canada’s U23 side and was called into the senior set up by John Herdman for the two CONCACAF Nations League matches against Cuba, where he started both games. He followed that up with a strong showing in Canada’s historic 2-0 win over the US last month.
Laryea is perhaps the right back that the Canadian national team was so badly needing. That might be too early to say, but Herdman is impressed with what he’s seen so far and feels his best is still to come.
“You have to give kudos to Greg Vanney and the front office at TFC,” Herdman told us on a conference call on Friday. “They took Richie on a bit of an opportunity and Greg’s seen something in his profile and put him into that full back position. For Canada, for me, it was an area that we needed to develop depth in and I think we have more than depth with Richie Laryea and his performance this year.
“If you know him off the pitch, he’s just a wonderful human being that provides that foundation. He’s had a tough football story. His year hasn’t been an easy one and that’s where the grit comes from. You’re starting to see in this stage of his career what he really, really can offer. He’s going to keep getting better and that’s Canada’s win. Again, it’s just a wonderful story.”
Laryea is set to feature in the second Nations League meeting with the US on Friday, ironically in Orlando. That will cap off an eventful week for the young defender, but for now his focus is solely on Sunday’s MLS Cup.
This year has been Laryea’s first appearance in the playoffs never mind a cup final, but it’s a climax fitting of the season he’s produced and one he’s clearly been enjoying.
“It’s been very different for me,” Laryea said. “It’s my first time here in the playoffs and to come all the way here is excellent. All the guys used to it are slowly showing me the way things go. It’s been fun and a good experience and I’m ready for it now [on Sunday].”