For the second straight year, Federico Higuain has missed time for Columbus Crew SC due to an injury.
In 2016, the hernia issue was strange because the Black & Gold playmaker returned for six matches after surgery, only to get hurt again and miss nearly all the rest of the season.
This year though has been even stranger.
Higuain last played for Columbus on July 1 against Atlanta United. He was held out of the July 4 game at Minnesota United due to match congestion, but following the two-week Gold Cup break, Pipa was listed with a knee injury and his not played since.
Initially, Berhalter said it was about pain in the knee for Higuain and that he might wake up feeling good any day. But that has not happened, at least not enough for him to get back into game action.
The 32-year-old Argentinian, who has nine goals and five assists in 18 starts, has been back in training for over a week now and has been a full participant since late last week, but was not featured in Crew SC’s 18-man gameday roster on Saturday at Orlando City SC.
“We’re not going to rush him back,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said of Higuain on Tuesday. “We’ve been so patient during this whole process that it doesn’t make sense to rush now. It’s going to be communicating with him, see where he feels and making the right decision.”
It would seem, given Higuain’s participation in training, that he would feature for the Black & Gold in Wednesday’s home match against the LA Galaxy, but Berhalter was not ready to say the playmaker would be on the pitch at MAPFRE Stadium.
“I don’t know. That’s a hard question,” he said when asked how close he is to being ready to play. “We’d have to huddle up with the medical team, coaching staff. That would take probably hours before I can get you a good answer on that.”
What’s for sure is that Higuain, who has said this will likely be his last year with Crew SC, adds something that the Columbus attack has been missing.
Since he’s been out, the Black & Gold have scored just eight goals in six matches, going 2-2-2 in the process, and adapting a more counter-attacking style.
With the addition of new Designated Player Pedro Santos, it shows a hope to get back to the attacking style Crew SC have become known for under Berhalter, but that would require these two attacking players to get on the field together.
Speaking of surprising injuries, Brazilian midfielder Artur was left out of the Columbus 18-man roster on Saturday as well.
Artur was involved in training last week, but apparently dealt with a hamstring injury throughout that ultimately held him out of the match in Orlando.
“He was going to be a last-minute decision,” Berhalter said. “We brought 19 players, so it was always going to be can he make it. Then it ultimately came down to we didn’t feel like the risk was necessary at this stage knowing our upcoming schedule.”
As for how he’s done since the team returned to training on Monday, Berhalter said he’s “coming along alright” and “doing well.”
Does that mean he will be ready for Wednesday night? Berhalter would not say.
In his place on Saturday was Mohammed Abu, who played one of his better matches of the season for Crew SC.
Another option, who was on the bench for the Black & Gold, is defender Nicolai Naess, who has been used at central midfield at times this season.
“We’ve seen him play midfield before,” Berhalter said of Naess. “He’s been excellent in midfield. We know he’s an option. And he’s another guy that it’s been a difficult season for him and he’s just got to remain patient and wait for his opportunity.”
After starting all 13 of the matches he played last season following his transfer to Columbus in late July, Naess has only played 18 games, starting 17 in his second year.
Berhalter updated on some other injuries as well.
Winger Kekuta Manneh is back in training in a limited fashion. “He did stuff and then did some extra stuff after. He’s getting ready,” Berhalter said of Manneh.
Fellow winger Niko Hansen, who has been out since mid-June after hernia surgery and now is returning from a thigh strain was “less limited” in practice, per Berhalter.
Wing back Harrison Afful was in tennis shoes today, but Berhalter said that had to do with his unavailability for Wednesday due to his red card suspension.