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Celebrating Pipa: Federico Higuaín’s Field retirement

The final memory of Higuain — for now — is his retirement as a member of the Crew

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Leading up to the Columbus Crew’s match against Nashville SC, Massive Report shared key moments on and off the field for midfield legend Federico Higuaín. From Higuaín’s debut to his first Pipa chip goal to when the Nordecke thought they might be saying goodbye. Moments like his 2016 bicycle kick and the infamous the penalty kick dispute. These were all part of Higuaín’s legacy in Columbus

To close out the series, the final moment to look back on happened on Saturday. Before the Crew lost to Nashville 1-0 in a match where the Black & Gold couldn’t break through an obvious defensive game plan, the club, the Nordecke and a soldout crowd sent Higuaín into retirement with a moment fit for the maestro.

Before the pre-match on-field festivities, Higuaín, alongside his young daughter, signed his one-day contract. Before the midfielder put pen to paper, Higuaín gave a short speech, warning that he might get emotional. As he did on the field for his almost eight years with the Crew, he held his composure.

Alongside investor-operator Dr. Pete Edwards and president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko, Higuaín signed his contract as a crowd that filled Field’s outdoor plaza chanted the familiar “HI-GUA-IN!” that he heard on countless corner kicks during his time with the club.

In the final minutes before kickoff, the team honored Higuaín with a framed jersey alongside his wife and three kids. Higuaín’s three kids followed this up by taking ceremonial penalty kicks, each scoring on one of the Black & Gold’s mascots Crew Cat and SC. Then the Nordecke unfurled a tifo for the ages.

Showing the player’s back holding a conductor’s baton, Higuaín orchestrated his final moment in front of the supporters’ section. It was complete with a banner that read “Take a Bow, Maestro.”

MLS: Nashville SC at Columbus Crew SC
The Nordecke got a final chance to honor Higuain and did it in style.
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

For Higuaín, it seemed like a no-brainer to come back to the Crew to celebrate his professional playing career. He spent more time with the Black & Gold than any other team. Last October, when Higuaín returned to Columbus with Inter Miami for the first time since leaving the team in 2019, the Argentine received a standing ovation when he came onto the field as a substitute in the 68th minute.

Normally, former Crew players are welcomed back to Central Ohio with “Columbus reject” chants from the Nordecke, but on that fall day, play came to a stop as Higuaín ran onto the field to cheers.

As it turns out, the decision to return on Saturday was not guaranteed.

“I’m not going to say it was easy or it wasn’t easy,” said Higuaín on the prospect of coming back on Saturday. “I really appreciate it. We really appreciate it as a family. It’s something that we will never forget.”

Higuaín is a rare case for the Crew. He’s one of only a few players that played for the Hunt Family — the team’s original owners — as well as Precourt Sports Ventures and the current investor-operators in the Haslam and Edwards families.

The midfielder’s seen the low moments on the field, even lower moments off it, and everything in-between. Higuaín’s brought an otherwise diminishing Black & Gold side to life, coming in as the team’s third Designed Player signing in the club’s history.

While he played a season under the current ownership group, Saturday was the first time he saw where this organization is now in 2022. After years of playing in Historic Crew Stadium with aging facilities and less support than was needed to thrive in MLS, Field and the OhioHealth Performance Center are a different world.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s a big, big change for the club in terms of facility, training, stadium,” said Higuaín. “I was talking with all the people you know from the old school in Columbus group and we go crazy with what we see right now and we’re so so so happy for the present of this club.”

With all the changes over the past three years and the speed at which they’ve happened, it’s hard to remember some of the older days. A key part of those days, and staying competitive when the investment wasn’t there, was Higuaín.

In terms of a Circle of Honor placement, the elite group of former players and coaches who are recognized especially in the club’s history, Higuaín isn’t eligible. At least not under the current rules. While he’s played the required number of matches (50) and seasons (4), there’s one criterion he didn’t reach as a player: winning a major trophy. Without an MLS Cup, Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, Supporters’ Shield or CONCACAF Champions League title with the Crew, Saturday’s honor might be his last in Columbus.

While requirements can loosen, and Higuaín’s is a good example of why they should be, the No. 10 will still go down as a piece of Black & Gold history. The maestro deserved Saturday’s bow.