Federico Higuain's future not proving to be a distraction for Crew SC

OBETZ, Ohio – As Columbus Crew SC heads into a stretch that will determine their season, they may be venturing into the postseason with Federico Higuain for the last time.

Higuain told the Columbus Dispatch last month that he expects the 2017 season to be his last in a Crew SC uniform, though Gregg Berhalter said he still felt there was a chance to bring Higuain back.

But as the season winds down, the Argentine playmaker isn’t willing to talk about his future, and is focusing solely on soccer.

“I have nothing to say with respect to my future,” he said. “I talked a month or two months ago and for me, that’s it. It’s time to move on and play soccer. That’s why I’m here.”

That’s just fine with Berhalter and Higuain’s teammates. Captain Wil Trapp said there’s never been a hint of locker room disruption stemming from Higuain’s comments.

“Honestly, we haven’t even thought about it,” Trapp said. “There’s been no conversation about it; there’s been nothing that would distract the group. That’s a credit to the group as well as Pipa and being professional and stepping in every day. He wants to win just as much as anyone else.”

After missing seven games earlier this summer due to a knee ailment, Higuain – known by many as Pipa – said he’s now “feeling good.” And when he looks back on last year’s injury-shortened season, he says it’s not an indication of the kind of player he was in 2016 or the one he is in his nine-goal, seven-assist 2017 campaign.

“When I was healthy – when I’m healthy – I normally play well,” he said. “I do my job. Last season was strange. We cannot make an analysis about last season because I could not play enough to say, ‘Pipa was good’ or ‘Pipa was not good.’ But when you look at the last four or five years, playing for this club, I did my job. I’m really happy. So I want to enjoy these last games and see what happens.”

Preferring a “game-by-game” approach, Higuain likes to focus on the task at hand rather than overarching themes. But he admitted that the unique feeling around the MLS playoff hunt is one he enjoys. Columbus are currently in fourth in the Eastern Conference, six points above seventh-place Montreal, who have two games in hand on Crew SC.

“Everyone in this team likes this time of year,” he said. “Around the league, every single player likes to play this time of the year. When big games are coming, I think players who love this game like to play these types of games.”

Higuain said it didn’t take any time for him to adjust to the intensity of Audi MLS Cup Playoffs when he arrived from Argentina, but he admitted it’s difficult to compare the team’s 2017 run with the feeling he had when he first got to Columbus in 2012.

“I feel like a part of this club, so obviously it’s different,” he said. “If you compare my first three or four games with this last three or four games, everything is different. So I’m trying to do my best. The club is trying to do its best to make the playoffs. So we’ll see what happens. You never know.”

In his six seasons, Higuain has seen the growth of both the club and the players within it. And while he didn’t want to compare this season’s team to the one that made an MLS Cup run in 2015, he said the group’s maturity is what he notices most.

“We grew up,” he said. “From my first day here, guys like Justin [Meram], Wil [Trapp]…many guys from that time grew up and helped this club. The group is good.”

And while he may very well be approaching the final games of his storied Columbus career, Higuain didn’t hesitate in saying that there’s no extra sentimentality in the run – mostly because it won’t alter his feelings about Crew SC.

“The love that I feel for this club will not change because of a contract or no contract,” he said.

Trapp and Higuain’s teammates know he’s not one for “win one for Pipa” storylines. But just because they don’t say it out loud doesn’t mean it won’t be in their minds.

“I don’t know if it will be a spoken thing,” Trapp said with a smile, “but we’ll see.”

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