Every time Federico Higuain gets the ball in midfield to start another offensive action for Columbus Crew SC in the 2018 MLS season, it might look as if it was all new around him.
Wil Trapp and Artur are still seating deeper behind him, but other than that, it’s an entirely different Crew SC’s offense when compared to 2017.
To conclude last season Pipa had Pedro Santos on the right, Justin Meram on the left and Ola Kamara up top as options to feed. That’s the case no longer.
In Columbus’ season opener last week against Toronto FC, Santos was still around, but now moved to the left side. Both Meram and Kamara are gone, leaving Cristian Martinez on the other wing and Gyasi Zardes in the striker role.
Different players, but the same approach.
Despite being the only piece of Crew SC’s front four to remain untouched for the 2018 season, the 33-year-old Argentinean, who has been the main engine of the Black & Gold’s offense since his arrival in 2012, is confident the outcome will not be much different from previous seasons.
“To me it’s all the same,” he told Massive Report on the team’s Media Day. “I’ve always been lucky to have great players around me on this team and that’s the case again. Obviously Kamara and Meram were great teammates and very good players for this team, but so are Zardes, Santos and Martinez. We’ve always had a very professional and talented group of players and I’m confident we’ll do well again this season.”
Crew SC’s recent story backs Higuain’s belief. Since 2014, the team has scored at least 50 goals each regular season, always ranking among the eight best offenses in Major League Soccer.
Replacing productive offensive players has not been a problem for the Black & Gold as the team remained among the best attacks of the league even when Kei Kamara left after scoring 31 goals in 46 matches and Ethan Finlay was traded after registering 31 goals and 31 assists in six seasons with the club.
A strong sign that in Columbus, the system stands heavier than the pieces.
“It has always been like that here,” Higuain added. “If you take the 2014 team, there are only myself, Jimenez and Trapp left now. And we’ve had good campaigns over the last four or five years. We have a system in which we believe and that means the right way to play soccer for us. It has allowed us to be a strong team both offensively and defensively and we believe that this system puts us in a good position to win matches.”
The team’s numbers to start the season were promising as well. Considering the five friendlies and the season opener against Toronto — a 2-0 win against the defending MLS Cup champions — the Black & Gold have scored 16 goals in six matches, with each of Higuain, Zardes, Santos and Martinez finding the back of the net at least once.
“We’re a team that plays beautiful soccer and tries to score and to be aggressive,” Pipa commented. “We hope to be among the best again. We are happy that we got three points in Toronto against a very difficult team and we are looking forward to get another win against Montreal.”
If Higuain can replicate his 2017 performance, arguably his best for the team with nine goals and 16 assists, Crew SC should be in a good position for another season with numerous goals.