Federico Higuain showed glimpses of what the Crew front office and coaching staff had raving about. The man logged an assist and transformed an offense. There was vibrancy that was missing most of the year.
The team had shifted several weeks back away from Coach Robert Warzycha's preferred two striker formation to a five man midfield. Unlike previous attempts to go with a lone striker, the Crew lined up in the popular 4-2-3-1 formation and gave much more support to Costa Rican Jairo Arrieta. Dilly Duka has had flashes of brilliance on the left and Eddie Gaven has been very capable on the right or in the middle.
Arrieta has been a very good acquisition for the team. He's not afraid to shoot and can finish in traffic. He's already gotten three goals, good for second on the team with only 6 games played. He's a tireless worker off the ball, gets into channels, and is able to hold up play. He's may not be the most lethal striker the Crew has had, but he compares favorably to Alejandro Moreno.
The Black and Gold still haven't looked quite as threatening until the recent return of Milovan Mirosevic. He moved to the number 10 role in the Galaxy game and looked like the best player on the field as the Crew offense looked the best it had all year. He missed the game in Houston and the Crew struggled without him until Higuain came on in the second half. It has been a frustrating first year in MLS, but he's showing glimpses of what the coaching staff promised when he was signed in January.
The team will have Mirosevic back, but Higuain will likely take his spot under Arrieta as soon as tonight. Milo will have to find a new home. While he showed he has the talents to play as a number 10 creator, he's likely going to sit behind and act the possession midfielder with defensive responsibilities, it's not his best position, but he's better than any of the other options there.
Higuain's addition moves Justin Meram and Emilio Renteria firmly to the bench and Gaven to his preferred role on the right. Both Renteria and Meram have had some chances to lead the offense, but both have struggled for long stretches. Renteria will be an offensive battering ram who can change the game as a late sub. Meram will again have to scrap for playing time. His form has swooned as of late. Gaven is a clear step up from both of them and showed what he was capable of on Sunday.
Higuain is tailor made to fit into the number 10 role. He can play anywhere up front, but he can be tremendously influential in that central role. From there he can link back with the midfield, swing balls wide, or link up with Arrieta. He showed great awareness to be in the right spots on the field on Sunday night as evidenced by his impressive 65 touches in 45 minutes of play.
The Crew are in a difficult spot, on the outside of the playoff spots, 7 points behind D.C. United with a game in hand. They have slightly more than a third of the season to make up ground. The defense is one of the top units in the league. If the offense can take a step up to league average, the Crew can make up ground quickly. It's a big if an rests on the shoulders of their designated player and his strengthening supporting cast.