FLUSHING, N.Y. — Under a driving October rain Monday night in Queens, a magical career started flashing back for Gonzalo Higuain after the final whistle had sounded on his final match.
“I felt like what I had loved the most as a job had ended. It was half my life, my career, 17-and-a-half years,” Higuain said in the post-match press conference. “Images from my entire career came to my mind. What I lived, what I worked, what I experienced and I’m leaving very happy because I gave it all until today. That's the most important thing.”
The legendary Argentine didn’t win his final match, and he didn’t lift one final cup, but the 34-year-old, it can be argued, went out on top. His form down the stretch of his final season – seven goals in the final six games of the regular season – helped clinch Inter Miami’s second-ever playoff appearance.
He started his final 15 matches for the Herons, including Monday’s Round One playoff defeat, after being relegated to a super-sub role earlier this season.
“We’ve had real difficult moments. He’s had real difficult moments when a lot has been questioned of him, a lot has been aimed at him and his form probably wasn’t as good as it should have been,” Miami head coach Phil Neville said. "What we said to him is he’s leaving exactly how he should be leaving in exactly the right way he should be leaving, with the goals he’s scored, the happiness in which he’s played, the way he’s embraced his teammates and carried his teammates. It’s exactly what we expected. He can be massively proud.”
Higuain thought he added yet another goal to his remarkable total of 335 over the course of his storied career, a tally that would have given the Herons a first-half lead. But it was called back for offside.
And he had his team’s best chance of the second half, forcing Sean Johnson into one of his four saves.
"I think that until their first goal it was a great game. We were able to score a goal that they disallowed, we created a lot of chances... it was a great game from both teams,” Higuain said. “The first goal changes the planning a little bit, and you have to go in search of the tying goal because it's the playoffs and you're out. … But in general I think that up until their first goal we played a great game."
Higuain said more than a stellar career for club and country, and all the moments on the pitch, it's the relationships built over that time that matters most.
"I think what's most important, regardless of the career you've had, the trophies, the goals, the most important thing is being a good person. Leaving good values in every team you played for,” he said. “And that's the biggest memory I take from every team I played for, the acknowledgment they've given me at every team I've played for, ex-teammates, more than anything they've spoken about the good person that I am.”
“I'm very proud to play with him. He scored more than 300 goals. He's my friend. He's an amazing person,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “I love him inside and outside. I'm very sad because I want to play more years with him, but this is football. I hope he enjoys with his family. He needs to enjoy this amazing career, but the most important, he’s an amazing person.”
When the match was over, Maxi Moralez, who led NYCFC’s charge with a goal and an assist, shared a moment with his fellow countryman on the Citi Field pitch.
“Obviously I wanted to congratulate him for his amazing career,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s not the best way to say farewell to the game, but, still, congratulated him and wished him the best from here on out.”
And while his final game didn’t end the way he wanted, Higuain hopes his influence in Miami carries over to the 2023 season and beyond.
"Hopefully me playing here helped for next year in terms of a winning mentality. And, as I said before, I wish everyone here the best because you can win or lose in soccer, but I've met very valuable people and the truth is that it was a wonderful year,” Higuain said. “Regardless of this ending, I had a wonderful year in which I've met amazing people and I wish them the best for next year."
As for what’s next for Higuain? That remains to be seen.
“The dream is over and another life begins,” he said.