The last time Columbus Crew SC fans saw Federico Higuain in person before Saturday night's win over Orlando City SC, he was hyped up and invested in the match against the New York Red Bulls, perhaps too much so. Higuain was issued a red card, after receiving his second yellow for protesting the official's call.
Returning home, Higuain again came out engaged and focused, but this time he kept his cool. The result was his best game of the season, maybe in the last two seasons.
"He was amazing," head coach Gregg Berhalter said after the match. "I think that was one of the better performances since I've been around seeing him play. We know he has that in him and tonight was a good night for him."
The Crew SC No. 10 scored the game-winning goal in the 32nd minute on a nifty flick after pressure from Columbus' attack forced a giveaway and Ethan Finlay found Pipa with a low cross. The Argentinean made a hard near post run and the heel touch found the back of the net.
"I just kind of jumped on it and Pipa made a nice near post run. I hit it hard to the near post and he just showed the skill that he has," Finlay said of the goal.
"You're trying to put it in a good area and you know a guy like that can do something special. He showed it, he showed that he can do it. I've seen him do in training before so I have full confidence that in those positions, he can make something happen."
These are the type of performances Higuain can bring to a match and what Berhalter and Black and Gold fans hope to see more of throughout the season.
Saeid Paves the Way
His name didn't show up much on the stat sheet - no goals, no shots, no assists - but Mohammed Saeid had one of the best showings of the season for Crew SC.
The central midfielder filled in admirably for the injured Wil Trapp, who missed his second-straight game with concussion-like symptoms.
"He was great tonight," Berhalter said of the Swedish midfielder. "He really was."
Saeid made his fifth appearance of the season, his fourth start, filling in when Trapp and Tony Tchani have missed time. After a very good first game against Toronto FC, Saeid was good, but not great in his other contests. Berhalter attributed this to switching positions and learning how Columbus plays the game.
"When you start him off and the idea in your head is that he's a No. 8," the head coach explained. "And he plays there and plays well, and then at first he struggles playing No. 6, and then he gets back into it and has a performance like that, it's great."
Saeid's name wasn't mentioned much throughout the contest, but that's what you want from a defensive midfielder. He goes about his job, doesn't make mistakes, and in the end, helps his team take three points.
Low Cross Success
The Black and Gold spent the end of training nearly every day last week working on low, driven crosses into the 18-yard box. Sometimes it was the players sending the balls in, while other, the staff played the crosses while the players looked to finish the chance.
It was something that the club works on a lot, but it was very evident in the team's game plan on Saturday night.
"Yeah, I think that first post run is extremely important," Ethan Finlay said postgame. "It draws the defense, it pulls the defense. We've had other opportunities, not only in this game but in other games with a similar type of cross."
Finlay's low service led to the first goal from Federico Higuain, but it was not just him delivering these balls. Right back Hernan Grana, left back Waylon Francis, and opposite winger Justin Meram played their balls low, in order to make it harder on the defense.
"It's a tough ball to defend if you can cut across a defender's face, it's a tough because the guys have to react so quickly," Finlay explained.
From the practice field to the pitch.
Crew SC Make Statement
Gregg Berhalter and his staff are aware of what's going on around MLS. This means Crew SC as a whole is made aware. You can bet that Berhalter let his team know that people around the league were talking about expansion side Orlando City SC and their remarkable style of play in the build up to the game.
You can bet the Black and Gold came out looking to prove that Orlando still has a lot to learn about MLS, but according to Kei Kamara, that wasn't the only message the side wanted to send.
"Not just to Orlando. We just want to send a statement that we're figuring out each other as a team," he said.
"When we're playing in this house over here, we want to make it difficult for any team, anybody that comes in. For us, doing that tonight, I hope it sends a statement."
Despite the 3-0 score line over a team that hadn't conceded more than two goals all year, Crew SC was not happy.
"Personally, I'm a little disappointed. I think we could have had some more opportunities to put a real exclamation on the game," Ethan Finlay said. "That's all right. Those goals are going to come. I guess we'll save those, put those in the bag, and use them later in the season."
Never content. Statement sent.