Higuain's versatile influence irreplaceable for Crew

Argentine midfielder perhaps most dynamic attacking option in the League

Federico Higuain

Photo Credit: 
USA Today Sports Images

Last Saturday, in a match where his team had to replace one-half of its backline, all Crew forward Federico Higuain did was record a two-goal, one-assist performance in the hostile territory of Providence Park. Ever since he stepped on the pitch for his MLS debut at Houston in August 2012, the Argentine has been a vital offensive cog for the Crew—and often in bunches.

Since that debut, no MLS player has had more two-goal games than Higuain—six in all, including one in his third-ever League contest. With 28 career MLS tallies to his name, simple math dictates that when Higuain scores a goal in a match, he has gone on to score a second goal 37.5% of the time. Despite his personal knack for scoring in bunches, Higuain thinks that the principle behind it applies to the whole team.

“Any teammate that comes in and scores the first goal opens things up for everybody, not just me,” Higuain told TheCrew.com. “All 11 players are out there working hard. Whoever gets the chance first, it opens up the whole game for us to play better … When I do score, and everyone else gets the chance to score, it opens up for everybody, not just me.”

While Higuain’s scoring resume speaks for itself, what is perhaps even more impressive is his ability to be the total package in attack. No player in MLS both scores and distributes as effectively as the Argentine does:

Player Goals Final Third Passes Chances Created
Dominic Dwyer 10 70 6
Bradley Wright-Phillips 9 81 7
Clint Dempsey 8 162 16
Erick Torres 8 106 9
Federico Higuain 6 347 38
Robbie Keane 6 172 18
Will Bruin 6 144 21
Alvaro Saborio 6 75 7
Joao Plata 6 68 18

The above chart displays every player who has scored at least six goals this season (nine in all on that list). Of the nine, Higuain has just over twice as many passes in the final third as the next closest competitor and almost twice as many chances created.

By the way, Higuain also leads all of MLS in both categories. That's obviously impressive enough on its own, but adding it to the context of his goal-scoring only enhances the meaning.

Concerned about sample size? Here's the same data for 2013, Higuain's first full year in the League:

Player Goals Final Third Passes Chances Created
Mike Magee 21 491 65
Marco Di Vaio 20 306 25
Robbie Keane 16 445 54
Diego Fagundez 13 350 27
Dominic Oduro 13 336 34
Jack McInerney 12 195 23
Alvaro Saborio 12 138 14
Federico Higuain 11 670 118
Tim Cahill 11 351 20
Chris Wondolowski 11 343 39
Blas Perez 11 269 27

This time, the cutoff is all MLS players who matched or exceeded Higuain's 11 goals, but Pipa's dominance is once again evident. Mike Magee, last season's MLS MVP, was the runner-up to Higuain in both final third passes and chances created among this group. Magee still did not come close in either category.

Among all players, those 118 chances created led MLS in 2013, and his 670 final third passes ranked fourth. With a player this influential on his roster, it's no wonder that Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter is careful to not restrict his movement.

“Federico and I have a lot of conversations. He asks me, ‘should I be here? Should I be there?’ You can’t always define a guy like that, and that’s the one thing that’s difficult. I can’t tell him that he always has to be here, or he always has to be there," said Berhalter.

“He has a very unique position where we want him getting the ball and having influence on the game, and sometimes that’s further back, sometimes that’s higher up. It’s an interesting position that he plays, but we give him the freedom to move around, and the important thing is that we get him the ball.”

The bottom line? It's difficult to find a more influential attacking presence in all of MLS than the Crew's #10.