Please welcome Matt Weisgarber to the Massive Report staff. Matt will be giving his takes on major Crew-related news, as well as breaking down games once the season gets underway.
On January 5, Columbus Crew SC announced a new deal for Designated Player Federico Higuain. The contract is reportedly for two years and will make Higuain the highest paid player in Crew SC history. While this is no longer breaking news, we at Massive Report felt it was important enough to take a closer look at what Pipa's new contract means for everything Black and Gold moving forward.
1. The Columbus Crew SC front office is committed to winning
Anthony Precourt has only owned the team for a year and a half and fans are still trying to figure out what type of owner he is going to be. Multiple reports have surfaced that he is willing to spend big to bring in the right players - his $1 million offer to Mix Diskerud is a prime example. This has remained theory for fans of the Black and Gold however, as no new high profile signings have occurred since Precourt took over.
Well Crew SC fans, the club finally connected.
The Higuian extension is tangible proof that Precourt and sporting director and head coach Gregg Berhalter are willing to spend. This quashes any rumors that Higuain was unhappy or the team was looking to replace the talented Argentine.
Re-signing Higuian is proof that Crew SC ownership believes building a team that can win on the field is the model for club growth. Precourt and Berhalter decided that Higuian gave this club the best chance to win, and they were willing to spend to keep him here.
2. Columbus Crew SC is a place stars want to play
Higuian may not be a household name in some circles, but he is among the elite players in the MLS. As in all leagues, elite players like Higuain can dictate where they want to play.
There were rumors of interest from New York City FC in signing Higuain if Crew SC let his contract run out. This is the same NYCFC that, at the time, believed Frank Lampard would be suiting up for them. Berhalter felt the need to protect Higuain in the Expansion draft, meaning that a team such as NYCFC must have been interested in taking him.
Why would NYCFC be interested in Higuain? Since joining the Black and Gold in 2012 he has accounted for nearly 43% of the teams goals. He is fifth in goals scored in 2013-2014 combined, including a league-leading 12 goals from free kicks. Higuain has created 247 chances since joining the MLS in 2012, which leads the league over that time span.
All of this means that Higuian is MLS elite, and had options. If the Columbus was not the type of team he wanted to play for, he could have forced a move to the most high profile club on the east coast this offseason. Instead, he signed an extension to stay with the Crew SC, proving that the elite players of the MLS can find a small market club like Columbus Crew SC an attractive place to build a career.
3. The Columbus Crew SC should never be out of a match for the next several years
With the current Crew SC roster, opposing teams have to earn every goal they score. All four of players of the Crew SC defense have been recognized as among the best in their country at their positions. Given the inevitable zero or one goal games next season, Higuain offers a silver bullet that should put the Crew SC in a position to gain points from every single match up until the final whistle.
Higuian led MLS the last two years in goals from free kicks. Any foul that is committed within 25 yards of the opposing goal is in range for a "Pipa" cannon strike. Given the physical nature late in games and Higuian's ability to score at will on a restart, Crew SC should always be confident that points are within reach.
Higuain has proven to be even more dangerous when the ball is moving. He instilles confidence in his teammates by creating space with his movements off the ball. Teammates regularly find him threading through seams in opposing defenses unnoticed. Once Higuian has the ball he is deceptively skilled in traffic. Higuain is able to buckle knees of defenders and finish in a way that keeps opposing goalies guessing how the ball ended up in the back of the net.
This confidence should not be understated. When a team feels like they have an ace in they hole, they can play more loose, take more chances, put the opposition on their heals and as a result create more goals.
4. Berhalter's 4-2-3-1 system is here to stay
The 4-2-3-1 accentuates the "Number 10" role. The "number 10" plays in the middle of the field and is the focal point of the attack. Think of the number 10 as a quarterback. This is Higuain's role. The formation allows Higuain to push forward if the holding midfielders or wingers advance the ball. Moving forward puts Higuain in a prime position to receive the ball and fire at will. The 4-2-3-1 also allows Higuain to drift back and receive the ball closer to midfield, which allows him to use his athleticism and vision to provide service to the forward and wingers, who are able to set up dynamic runs into the box. The 4-2-3-1 allows the number 10, which is Columbus' best player (and only Designated Player) to be on the ball, making key decisions when the game is on the line. Higuain was the goals and assists leader for Crew SC last season, demonstrating he is able to make the right decisions when it matters most.
5. Fans have a reason to go to Crew Stadium to watch this team for years
Berhalter has created a well-oiled, fine-tuned machine that runs efficiently for 90 minutes. Every player on the Crew SC roster has a role to play, and Higuain is the magician. If a defensive breakdown is developing, Higuain is able to swoop in with his bag of tricks and win a tackle, intercept a pass, or provide an escape rout to neutralize an attack. He is willing to move forward centrally or on the wings to pull another rabbit out of his kit and provide a perfectly placed pass, shake off defenders, or chip the ball past the keeper from 20 yards out.
Orlando City FC can have Kaka, the Seattle Sounders can keep Clint Dempsey, and Toronto FC can do whatever it is they're doing Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. Crew SC fans have Higuan, and they should come out and watch him live because he outworks every other star in the league.
Watching Higuain play in Columbus Crew Stadium is majestic. Fans can see him essentially play all 10 outfield positions during a game. This does not translate to TV well because so much of his sorcery is off the ball. Higuain's uncanny ability to make magic happen offensively and defensively all over the pitch should provide fans with a reason to go to the stadium for the life of his contract.
6. Rumors mean nothing with the Columbus Crew SC
Towards the end of the season, rumors swirled about Higuain's unhappiness with Crew SC. Stories surfaced about Higuain being disgruntled over losing the captains armband when Berhalter took over. This rumor gained steam when, in the last game of the season, Higuain failed to appear at a postgame awards ceremony, at which he won MVP for the team. After this his effort was questioned in game one of the playoffs against the New England Revolution, a game in which he scored a clever penalty kick to give the Crew a punchers chance in the game two, Higuain did not make the trip to the second leg of the series, further fueling rumors of his imminent departure.
Speculation of Higuain leaving was from both sides. In the summer transfer window the Crew made considerable effort to sign "Mix" Diskerud, a player who wears the number 10 for the U.S. Men's National Team and plays the same position as Higuain. Analysts and fans alike struggled to see how the two could fit on the same team and reports of Higuain leaving continued.
This extension proves that all the speculation was just that, speculation. The Crew SC front office has proven to be extremely tight lipped. They have never confirmed nor denied the rumors; they simply picked up Higuain's option, then re-signed him as a top priority this offseason. Any future "team news" not coming from Berhalter or Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt should be disregarded.