As the club's sporting director and chief soccer officer, Henderson singled out Higuain as a difference-maker. He originally joined Miami during September of their 2020 expansion campaign from Italy's Juventus.
“Higuain is super important this year,” Henderson said. “He’s coming fit, he’s the leader of this group, he’s like the elder statesman who gets all the young guys together and they kind of follow his lead. So having his commitment is going to be really important.”
The 34-year-old has easily been Miami’s most productive offensive player since his arrival, scoring 12 goals and adding nine assists in 30 matches during his first full MLS campaign.
He's their top returning scorer, providing a platform for attacking newcomers like Ariel Lassiter, Leonardo Campana and Emerson Rodriguez to hit their stride. Campana and Rodriguez are both U22 Initiative signings, contributing to the 10-plus newcomers and nearly 20 departures across the squad.
They're part of widespread roster changes, with Henderson exercising a near-complete makeover for head coach Phil Neville's second year in charge. They have fewer resources after facing roster compliance violations related to midfielder Blaise Matuidi's expansion-year arrival, also from Juventus. The Frenchman is expected to soon depart, possibly via a buyout, becoming another outbound piece of 2021's spine that missed the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
“When the sanctions came, we took it as one way – we’ve got to move forward,” Henderson said. “This is where we’re at right now. And how are we going to deal with it? And I think we’ve been really aggressive. That was our approach. Let’s deal with it right now instead of dragging it on, and that’s why we’ve made the moves we have.”
Henderson hopes the Brazilian midfield core of Gregore and Jean Mota can be a rock to build upon for several years. Gregore was one of his first acquisitions in 2021, while Mota joins this season from Brazilian Serie A mainstay Santos.
Still, Henderson insists Miami will keep thinking big, including how to fill a third Designated Player roster slot. Matuidi's departure would open a spot, while Rodolfo Pizarro's loan to Liga MX's CF Monterrey technically doesn't accomplish the same. Higuain occupies the other.
Over the years, Miami have been linked to a near-constant stream of superstars, often given co-owner David Beckham's brand and global reach.
“We have some really good options in front of us, people who can come in and galvanize our team and be a catalyst for a winning environment,” Henderson said of a possible DP. “We want to bring in someone who can be three, four, five years at the club and can change the way the team plays on a daily basis.”
For Henderson, some of the more exciting developments in Year 2 of his tenure are projects fans might not see results from immediately, such as leaning heavily into building out the team's academy operations to more recent investments in sports science.
But he also knows that beyond infrastructure changes, how a more youthful and energetic squad performs in 2022 will be what most fans remember.
“I feel like we have a really good foundation now to support our first team,” Henderson said. “But at the end of the day it’s pro soccer and it’s about results on the first team.”