Editor’s note: On Saturday, the Crew will honor Federico Higuaín. The former midfielder, affectionately known as Pipa, is signing a one-day contract to officially retire as a member of the Black & Gold. To honor the midfielder, Massive Report will spend this week sharing moments of Higuaín’s career with the Crew.
In the first game of 2016, the Columbus Crew had two ways the team could go to start the season. The Crew’s last match of 2015 was the MLS Cup Final. On Columbus’ home field, an early goalkeeping snafu and missed throw-in call by the officials put the Black & Gold down 2-0 in the first seven minutes to the then-Caleb Porter-coached Portland Timbers. The Crew subsequently lost the championship match 2-1.
That meant 2016 was either a year where the team was motivated to get back to the peak and finish its climb or pick up the pieces of a crumbled team. It was the latter that overshadowed a difficult 2016 season, but it started with another memorable moment for midfielder Federico Higuaín.
MLS scheduled a Cup rematch between Columbus and Portland to open the year. This time, it was the Crew traveling west to Providence Park. Donning their polarizing For Columbus kits, the Black & Gold went down 1-0 on a free kick from another Argentinian, Diego Valeri.
After Valeri’s 23rd minute free kick goal, the match stayed 1-0 until late into the second half, when Higuaín, starting his fifth season for the Crew, stepped up, or jumped, as it turned out.
Columbus moved into the team’s offensive half when winger Justin Meram received a pass outside of the penalty area. Meram moved the ball to Higuaín, who did what he did often in that part of the field, pass and then run into a position to create offense.
Winger Ethan Finlay received the Higuaín pass and sent it back to Columbus’ No. 10. After the pass was deflected, and with Higuaín’s back to the goal, any shot was made more difficult. It was a moment when most players passed to an open teammate. Higuaín was not most players.
Following the pass, the ball bounced straight into the air. Its trajectory went over Higuaín’s 5-foot-8 frame. Higuaín did what many in MLS, and around the world, attempt but rarely convert. The Argentinian went for the bicycle kick. Higuaín’s shot skipped past Timber’s keeper Adam Kwarasey, putting the Crew level.
The bicycle kick ranks as a favorite goal for Columbus fans because of the timing and coordination needed to create it. Unfortunately for the Black & Gold, the match ended with Portland striker Fanendo Adi putting the Timbers ahead 2-1 in the 79th minute.
Higuaín’s bicycle kick and the Crew’s loss on the day were a great analogy for the 2016 season. It started out great, with a highlight-reel goal, but ended with disappointment. The Black & Gold finished 18th out of MLS’s 20 teams at the time, one year after making it to the MLS Cup Final.
This was one of four goals Higuain scored in 20 appearances during a difficult year for the Crew. The midfielder had mid-season hernia surgery that saw him miss time in what was one of his least impactful statistical seasons in Columbus.
But the bicycle kick that started the year will always be remembered by Black & Gold supporters.