MLS Features: Higuain powering Crew's playoff push
By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor
(Sports Network) - Since its inception in 2007, the Designated Player rule has allowed Major League Soccer clubs to compete for talent on the international market.
Some clubs, like Red Bull New York, jumped in headfirst to snap up players like Thierry Henry, Rafael Marquez and Claudio Reyna, who each brought with them a certain amount of name recognition.
Other teams, like the Columbus Crew, have preferred to dip a toe into the waters before taking the plunge.
Columbus had signed two Designated Players since 2007 prior to the start of this season, midfielder Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who was a key piece in the club winning the 2008 MLS Cup, and forward Andres Mendoza, who netted 15 goals in 40 games before being released due to off-field problems.
So when the Crew got off to a slow start this season, which left them in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference table, Columbus decided it was in need of an impact player.
That man was Federico Higuain, who was signed on July 27 from Argentina's Colon for a fee that is reported to be the highest ever paid by the Crew for a player.
The 27-year-old, who is the older brother of Real Madrid's star striker Gonzalo Higuain, brought with him the hope that he could spark a stagnant attack that managed to score two or more goals in a game just seven times in the Crew's first 21 outings.
And after only five games as a member of the team, he appears to be fitting in quite nicely.
Higuain announced his arrival at the club by coming off the bench and assisting on the go-ahead goal in a 2-2 draw against Houston just 13 minutes after stepping onto the field on Aug. 19.
He hasn't looked back since that memorable debut, either, netting three goals with six assists in his first five games and almost single-handedly helping the Crew climb the Eastern Conference ladder.
Columbus has long been a team associated with a stifling defense, which it rode to the 2008 MLS Cup title.
But since the arrival of Higuain, the club has managed to score two or more goals in each of his five appearances, resulting in four wins and a draw.
"Federico is a quality player. He's a player that the Crew needed in the midfield," said Columbus forward Emilio Renteria, who has benefited from the service of Higuain. "People like myself, (Jairo) Arrieta and all the forwards here, need a player like him who plays balls where they are needed, who is always ready to give assistance from the midfield."
The Crew's sudden surge in fortune is no doubt due in large part to the arrival of Higuain, with the club suddenly in the thick of a tight Eastern Conference playoff race which sees the top six teams separated by only nine points.
Columbus has managed back-to-back comeback victories in its last two games to move into fourth place and to within four points of second-place Red Bull New York.
And with Higuain continuing to orchestrate the Crew's attack, there is no reason why the goals shouldn't continue over the final eight games of the campaign.
"He (Higuain) brings a lot of energy on the field and, as I've said before, he has that class and is capable of changing the game at any moment," said Crew captain Chad Marshall, who leads a defense that has yielded 30 goals in 26 games, tied for the third-fewest in the league.
The defense is in place once more, and with Higuain on board, the offense appears to be rounding into form, which should prove to be a winning combination for the suddenly resurgent Crew.
09/03 14:21:17 ET