A mild summer day produced a carefree environment after the Crew's practice yesterday. Players lingered on the field in Obetz after the workout, playing games, throwing a football and putting in extra individual work.
A mild summer day produced a carefree environment after the Crew’s practice yesterday. Players lingered on the field in Obetz after the workout, playing games, throwing a football and putting in extra individual work.
About an hour later, a solitary figure remained. With most of his teammates having already showered, eaten lunch and left the facility, a shirtless Federico Higuain — or “Pipa,” as he is known among his teammates — remained.
Twenty-one balls were scattered around his feet as the Crew captain took what amounted to hundreds of free kicks against a wall of plastic practice dummies. One of them paid the price for a mishit attempt, as Higuain delivered a right-handed body blow that knocked the dummy from its moorings. It has been that kind of season for the team’s designated player: plenty of effort — and frustration.
“Obviously, I’m not happy,” Higuain said through an interpreter afterward. “Nobody is happy with the situation we are in right now, but mathematically we still have a chance. This is a man’s sport, and you cannot stop fighting when you still have a chance to make it to the playoffs.”
With 14 games remaining, the Crew likely needs to average 1.77 points per outing to reach the postseason. The next chance comes on Saturday at Toronto FC, and the game also will mark a full season’s worth of work for Higuain after being signed July 27, 2012.
In his first 33 games, including 31 starts, Higuain has 10 goals and 13 assists. The Crew is 13-13-7 since his signing.
“He has definitely fulfilled expectations,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “(Those numbers) are a pretty good record. That’s more than a lot of (international) players who have come before.”
But it has not all been rosy. After totaling three goals and six assists in his first five games last season, Higuain went without a point in six straight games, and the Crew missed the postseason by one point.
This season, Higuain is sixth in Major League Soccer with 61 shots, but four of his five goals have come on penalty kicks. His ratio of 61.0 shots per goal is three times higher than anyone else in the top 10 in shots, and he has the fewest non-penalty kick goals in the top 10.Warzycha attributed some of that to teams not fouling the Crew in places where Higuain can be dangerous on free kicks.
Although scoring is part of his game, Higuain was not brought in only to produce goals. Much of the Crew’s offensive plans revolve around getting him the ball in positions where he can distribute and find teammates on the field. When Warzycha was asked where he would like to see Higuain improve, he passed the buck across the roster.
“The players have to understand what he’s capable of doing and make better runs, because (Higuain) can really put a ball where you want,” Warzycha said. “It’s not up to him, it’s up to the entire team.”
Higuain offered little comment on reaching the full-season mark with the Crew other than expressing his hope that the team can somehow get back into the playoff race.
“I feel very good about Pipa,” forward Jairo Arrieta said through an interpreter. “He’s a leader. He has brought a lot to the team. I hope that he can bring more.”
On a day when Higuain arrived at practice an hour early and stayed at least that late, it’s tough to imagine what more he can do.