The Crew SC forward is a reflection of the city, and a player who has come to define the team's modern era
There are players who come along and leave a mark on an organization so distinctly that they are enshrined as part of an era. If you have been a fan from the early days of Columbus Crew SC, you might understand the team as a team of eras. There are two that are especially prominent: First, the Brian McBride era, stretching — in intervals — from the team's inaugural season in 1996 until 2003. There was the Guillermo Barros Schelotto era, from 2007 to 2010, which saw the Argentine striker lead Crew SC to its first MLS cup in 2008, a year in which he also captured league MVP.
It is easy and perhaps obvious to brand the team's current moment the Gregg Berhalter era, and that might be fair. The coach has reshaped and re-inspired the squad, putting a consistent run of quality on the pitch. But I am an advocate of considering the now as the Federico Higuain era. This is Higuain's sixth and likely final year with the team, and he's been as much a staple of the team's particular transition period as any other coach or player, or owner.
Higuain is a true #10, which is to say that he's the engine of an offense that is a reflection of his play. He's small, but tough — the type that some might refer to as “scrappy.” He is often tasked with charging into the heart of defenses consisting of players much larger than him. He is a touch point for those of us who were always too small to do whatever it is we thought we might be able to do on a field or on a court, and had to make up for it with a superior mind for the game. Higuain is always two steps ahead of what's happening in the attack, which sometimes creates frustrating results: a ball played brilliantly into a space a player wasn't ready to occupy yet, or a no-look flick to a defender's foot.
But as much as one watches Higuain for the occasional frustrating error, he's more magnetic to watch because of the magic he provides. When he sees a sliver of the pitch, and a player running free, and threads a perfect ball through an impossible space.
When there was uncertainty about his return to Columbus late last season, Higuain made a simple statement about why he was coming back. He said he loved the city. He loved playing soccer here. It was his home. I think a lot about how players shape a city. How McBride, for all of his ferocious and beautiful theatrics, captured a city's excitement about this new sport they were trying to grasp. How Schelotto was a hero for a city obsessed with sports heroes.
Higuain isn't particularly any of those things, and I think that's what makes him the most special player we've had here. He's a reflection of the city at its most consistent: a player that hums at a consistent pace until they give you something to make you remember how spectacular they are. Crew SC's success is inextricably linked to Higuain's success on the pitch. For all of the strikers the team has had during his time here, they rely on him. The entire offense has been under his command during a run of solid play, deep and sometimes unexpected playoff runs, and a roller coaster of moments which seem dark, but then become iridescent.
But I'll miss the Higuain era most because I feel like he is the Crew SC player that has most folded into what the city represents. He's an underdog and a titan. He's both hidden, and unforgettable. You might not remember how lucky you are to have him, until you do, and then it's impossible to forget. Even if I am the only one who celebrated it, I will miss the Federico era. If this is truly it, what a joy it was to watch. I am cheering for his every movement this season, and I hope you'll join me.