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.
At the end of the 2017 season, the Columbus Crew was back in the driver’s seat in the Eastern Conference. After a tumultuous 2016 season where the Black & Gold ended the year in the basement of Major League Soccer, the last home match of 2017 saw the Crew playing for a spot in the MLS Cup playoffs.
Federico Higuaín’s production wasn’t slowing down near the end of his seventh season with Columbus. In 32 matches, starting 26, that year, Higuaín scored nine goals and assisted on 14. Those 14 assists were the most in his career with the Crew and in his time in MLS.
The strong production was met with uncertainty about his future. The then 32 year old’s contract was slated to end in 2017, meaning it was potentially his last season with the Black & Gold. This put supporters into action.
Most supporters adored Higuaín, chanting his name on every corner kick he sent into the penalty area. While the 2016 penalty kick dispute did sour some supporters' view of the midfielder, Higuaín remained a fan favorite. On Sept. 30, 2017, fans showed that affection.
Before the kickoff against D.C. United, the Nordecke unfurled a banner, also known as a Tifo, that covered the north corner of Historic Crew Stadium. A psychedelic-style font read “Pipa,” above a full, life-like profile of the Crew midfielder.
It featured the prominent black and gold associated with the Crew but also included blues and purple that allowed the black and white portrait of the midfielder to stand out. Higuaín responded by standing out on the field.
The midfielder almost scored in the fifth minute. After a pass by forward Ola Kamara into the penalty area, Higuaín took a shot that went just over the crossbar. It only took Higuaín 10 more minutes to get on the stat sheet.
In the 14th minute, the Argentine connected with a usual but unexpected goalscoring partner in center back Josh Williams. Of Williams’ nine career goals, six came from off Higuaín assists.
On this match’s first goal, Williams met the pass at the penalty spot, where he went airborne, heading the ball into the left corner of the net. The ball went past former Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark.
Columbus went on to win the match 2-0. Higuaín’s response to the supporters’ display after the game said it all.
“That was amazing,” said Higuaín. “I don’t know if I deserve that. That’s too much love.”
What made the moment more emotional for Higuaín was his contract negotiations. It wasn’t shared before the match, but Higuaín agreed to an extension keeping him in Columbus, announced just a few days later.
The following Friday, TIFOSWEAT, the part of the Nordecke responsible for the huge displays of art during matches, presented Higuaín with the Tifo at the Crew’s former training facility.
On Oct. 17, 2017, 17 days after the victory, soccer writer Grant Wahl tweeted that then investor-operator of the Crew, Anthony Precourt, planned to move the Black & Gold to Austin, Texas.
Higuaín and the Crew responded with a deep playoff run where the midfielder had two assists in five matches. Columbus narrowly missed out on reaching the team’s second MLS Cup Final, losing to Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference Final.
In 2018, another sad chapter in American sports relocation history had its script flipped. The Crew stayed in Columbus through the work of the Save the Crew campaign and Higuaín continued to show up on the field. He entered the 50/50 club, scoring at least 50 goals and assisting on 50 more in the regular season. By doing so, Higuain became the 17th MLS player to do so and the only one in the history of the Black & Gold.