Columbus Crew plot new approach with Higuain suspended: "You don't replace Federico"

OBETZ, Ohio – When Federico Higuaín picked up his fifth yellow card of the season in Saturday's 2-0 win over the Chicago Fire, the Columbus Crew lost their best player for this weekend's match against rivals Toronto FC (Saturday, 5 pm ET, MLS Live) because of caution accumulation.

And after Saturday's match, head coach Gregg Berhalter didn't hesitate to admit how much the Crew will miss their Designated Player.

“You don’t replace Federico, simple as that,” he said after the game. “We get someone on the field that can play their game. We’re not going to ask someone to come in and play like Federico. That would be foolish of us.”

And while Berhalter has a variety of options to slot in for Higuaín, who likes to sit behind the forward and roam the midfield, he's far from certain who that person will be.

How will he decide what to change?

“I don't know,” he said with a laugh after Crew training Wednesday. “You just evaluate. We talked about not being able to replace Federico one for one. You can't do it. There's not many guys in the league that can do what he does, if any. We know that. It's little adjustments, slight alterations to what we're doing. The main work will stay intact.”

Names like Justin Meram, Ben Speas, Daniel Paladini and Dominic Oduro have all been mentioned to fill in for the team's No. 10.

“Whoever plays there ... we're going to ask them to be themselves and play their game," Berhalter said. "The person we choose, we'll choose because we think that their game will help us perform.”

But the bright side to missing Higuaín, who has played nearly every minute of MLS play for the Crew this season, is that the Argentinian finally gets a rest. And while Berhalter knows that he would have wanted to play, he's pleased that Higuaín won't be tempted to play in all three of the Crew's matches in an eight-day stretch.

“I honestly think that this is for the best,” Berhalter said. “I'm looking at three games in a week. He would want to play all three of them. We'd have to drag him off the field.

“So it's unfortunate that he's not going to be there against an Eastern Conference team, but we also feel like now we have Federico for two games in a week, rather than three games in a week. It gives him that extra rest, which is important.”

Though Higuaín is underrated in the eyes of many MLS observers, Berhalter said that those around the league know what he can do, and recognize the quality of the Columbus playmaker.

“In the soccer circles, I talk to people, and he amazes people every week with what he does,” Berhalter said. “So the soccer people know how good he is.”

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