OBETZ, Ohio – When Columbus Crew SC take the field for the first time next season, the team will do so without a club legend.
The Crew announced their roster updates following the 2019 season on Monday and indicated that midfielder Federico Higuain will not return to the club next year. This means that 2020 will be the first season since 2012 that the Black & Gold will not have the playmaker on the roster.
According to president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko, electing not to bring back Higuain was not an easy decision.
“We decided that we are not going to continue having conversations with his group in terms of a contract for next season,” Bezbatchenko told the gathered media at the team’s training facility on Monday. “We really thank [Federico] for everything he’s been for this club. He’s an absolute legend, he’s respected from top to bottom in our organization. These decisions we don’t take lightly and from my time in the league, it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make personally.”
In his eight seasons with the Crew, Higuain played in 193 regular season games, scoring 55 goals and registering 63 assists. He is the lone player in Black & Gold history to have more than 50 goals and 50 assists for the club and just one of 21 players to accomplish that feat in MLS.
Since arriving in Columbus in the summer of 2012, Higuain has proven to be one of MLS’s top playmakers. He helped the Black & Gold to four Audi MLS Cup Playoffs appearances, including a trip to the 2015 MLS Cup Final.
But after suffering an ACL tear in May, the writing was on the wall for the 34-year-old. With Higuain out of the lineup the rest of the season, the Crew shifted from a possession-oriented team to one that plays more on the counterattack, making it difficult to see where Higuain fits in head coach Caleb Porter’s lineup.
While Higuain has played his final game for the Crew, the organization is not ready to say goodbye to one of its all-time great players for good. Bezbatchenko was clear that the door is open for Higuain to return to the club in a different role if that would interest him.
“He is always welcome here,” the general manager said. “We would certainly entertain and have already talked to him about a role in the front office or in the academy or in the coaching ranks. We have an open mind about that.
“I believe he’d love to continue playing so we want to obviously help him in any way we can. But the day he decides to stop playing, there's always a friendly face and the door’s open for him,” he added.
The Crew now face a future without Higuain, a player who accomplished so much during his time with the club. As they have before, Columbus will look to replace the team’s playmaker and most expensive player this offseason, likely with another Designated Player who better fits the mold of the Crew going forward.
“Fans come out to watch players like [Higuain],” Bezbatchenko said. “Can we find a new version and the version that Caleb wants to play in Europe or in South or Central America? And that's what we're going to try this offseason.”