It’s no secret who drives the Columbus Crew. A look at the stat sheet and game film shows Federico Higuain is their talisman. The playmaker is the Crew’s driving force and, when on his game and on the ball, can make life very difficult for an opponent.
That is why he’ll be a marked man when the Houston Dynamo visits the Crew Saturday evening (6:30 p.m. CT; CSN Plus/Telemundo).
Columbus sits five points ahead of the Dynamo in the Eastern Conference standings. With Houston looking to make up ground, they know that pulling what has been extremely elusive road points out of Ohio will likely hinge on quieting the Argentine with popular name.
“He’s especially dangerous when they win the ball on their first pass forward,” head coach Dominic Kinnear said of Higuain. “He just kind of roams and dips inside, especially on that right foot, and play those important balls for guys. Trying to negate his time on the ball is very important because he does have the ability to find that pass."
It does not take much to recognize that Higuain drives the Crew attack. The midfielder leads the club in goals (9), assists (6), shots (47) and shots on goal (18). It’s an impressive output that makes up a lot of what the Crew have done going forward. However, marking him out of the game is about more than just stats.
As the target when the Crew play out of pressure or look to turn the ball over, Higuain’s skill on the ball outstretches even his gaudy stat sheet. His ability to bring the ball down and find a pass is on par with MLS’s best.
One way Houston can stop him is by holding onto the ball. The Dynamo are finally hitting their stride and with it has come better possession.
“Those players are tough because they really don’t have a positon. They have the ability to go and roam where they want,” said Ohio native Kofi Sarkodie. “How do we combat that? Again we’re just in good positions. If we’re on the offensive end and we’re really pressing back then Higuain and different guys in those roles may get lost in the game because they can’t get the ball in transition.
“If we can put the pressure on Columbus and really get at them and make their back line have to defend then I think we’ll be able to, almost indirectly, eliminate Higuain a little bit.”
What’s the secret to more possession? It's their ability to keep the same players in the lineup. Houston’s fielded the same starting XI for three games in a row and it’s shown in cohesion on the field.
“Consistency, with guys in the lineup,” Will Bruin said of the club’s strong play. “You start getting chemistry with people and you know when they’re going to cross the ball, when they’re going to play you the ball.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.