By Dario Camacho - MIAMI, FL (Aug 22, 2012) US Soccer Players -- Federico Higuain might be the best of all Designated Player signings. In the short history of the DP rule, we’ve seen our share of marquee players come and go. Outstanding quality is a rarity when it comes to a player pool mined by bigger leagues in Europe. What’s left is often a mish-mash of fading stars and mercenary players looking for their next assignment. It’s almost as if you were looking for a vein in a gold mine. Find one and you strike it rich, dig deeper and you might be trapped by a cave-in. With resources so strict, a player signing of DP caliber can make or break your season. Nothing is guaranteed.
Which brings us to Higuain. That careful balance of quality and quantity has shifted in Columbus’s favor like no other DP has done in recent memory. If Crew fans were looking for the second coming of Guillermo Barros Schelotto, they found one in the 27-year-old Argentine. As Chad Marshall said of Higuain, he is capable of changing the game at any moment.
And he has, as Higuain so shrewdly showed against Montreal with a timely game winning assist. Or with two beautiful free kick strikes against New England, or with the smooth service he provided from a free kick to Josh Williams for his goal against Philadelphia. Higuain has a vision on the field that most Crew fans would only associate with the Columbus legend.
What makes this signing so special it’s the immediate impact that Higuain is having on the Crew. Columbus is on a tear. A freakish one at that, considering this season the Crew haven’t been a reliable scoring machine. So rapid has been the transformation from defensive stalwart to offensive hulk that you could consider the Crew’s season this year as B.H. and A.H: Before Higuain & After Higuain. It’s a chasm.
Consider the Crew at the start of the season before Higuain came into the fold. Their offensive prowess from day one was miniscule. The brunt of their “success” came from an exceedingly stingy defense, backed by outstanding goalkeeping from Andy Gruenebaum. Chances are, if the Crew weren’t scoring, neither was the opponent. Through 21 games (B.H.), the Crew had a 1.05 GAA, while only scoring a total of 18 times. With those sort of stats, nobody gave the Crew much of a chance to reach the playoffs.
After Higuain, and the Crew are an entirely different animal. With five games under his belt, he’s assisted on six goals and netted three of his own. His foot has played a part in 75% of the Crew’s 12 goals which stands at 2.6 goals per game since his arrival. The team has gone onto a 4-0-1 record.
To put that into perspective, he has done more for his team in five games than Brek Shea or Javier Morales have done for an entire season. His on-field production has been an overflowing accomplishment, one so dramatic it has resurrected the belief that this Crew team can do wonders in the playoffs. “When he starts a game, he believes we are going to win. Not if, not maybe, but definitely,” Crew coach Robert Warzycha told the Columbus Dispatch.
Consecutive Player of the Week awards show the level he's playing at just weeks after taking his first steps in this League. He has landed on his feet, and has been showered with praise.
How long the Higuain magic lasts is only answered when teams decide to focus on the rising star. It’s inevitable that there will be a lull in his game, right? When that happens, the rolling thunder that is the new-look Crew will return to grasping for points. At least that's what the other teams hope happens.
With eight games left Columbus still have a few hurdles to go. They've seen fellow Eastern Conference clubs push up the table only to slide back down. Still, with games against six teams with worse records than them, it’s a safe bet that that Columbus will have an easier time slotting into the playoffs than contenders in DC, Chicago and Montreal.
The crucial factor is how long Federico Higuain can sustain this level of performance. Riding the success of one player has elevated Columbus from playoff outsider to a possible Cinderella run in the playoffs.
One player signing has made the difference in Columbus. It speaks well of all involved with the deal that it comes at a crucial time in the season where a spearhead push is needed the most. Federico Higuain has changed the complexion of the Eastern Conference playoff standings. With less than a handful of games left in the season, Columbus has an answer that other teams on the bubble don’t seem to have.
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