WASHINGTON – Last year he suffered a serious knee injury, parted ways with his club of eight years and saw his 35th birthday pass.
But know this: Federico Higuain isn’t ready to hang up his cleats quite yet.
“I want to be playing as long as possible,” the Argentine playmaker said after D.C. United’s training session on Tuesday, where he spoke to reporters for the first time since signing with the Black-and-Red. “I like football a lot. I love this game, this is my life.”
After eight seasons and myriad accomplishments with Columbus Crew SC, where he tops the all-time assists list, is the only player in club history to tally 50 goals and 50 assists and led a run to the 2015 MLS Cup final, Higuain is wearing a new badge in a new city. His family is still in Ohio, at least for now.
But D.C. offered him something the Crew would not.
“They just [made] a decision; they don’t give me the opportunity to play football,” Higuain said of his former team. “That's real. They offered me another job in the club, but I want to play football. And I will play football.”
The maestro says he holds no hard feelings about the manner of his exit from Columbus.
“No. No, no, no. I love them, I know they love me,” he said. “The love will be there forever. You know, I just wish them the best.”
Higuain tore his ACL in May – likely a big reason Crew SC decided to cut ties – and is still at least a month away from match fitness. D.C. United believe he’s still got something left in the tank, though.
“He’s got a little bit to prove, and that's always a good thing,” said head coach Ben Olsen. “First and foremost, he’s just such a wonderful player, and he just understands how to pull the strings. And he understands tempo so well, when to speed it up, when to play early, but when to also settle the team down and give some pause to the game. I've always admired that from him. And, hopefully, he can bring a little bit of that to us.”
The bilingual Higuain can also help build camaraderie on a squad with a large Latino contingent, and D.C. have given him the tag of “Player Development Coach,” while acknowledging that the role may head to the back burner if he makes a full return to form.
“It's not always real clear to the player what that role entails, because you don't know what the playing side is going to entail,” said Olsen, who's previously had Pat Onstad, Josh Wolff and Davy Arnaud in similar player/coach arrangements. “If he comes back and is a full-time player, is super-engaged and he's factoring in every week, it's hard to put too much focus on the coaching side. So we'll see. It will evolve. But I think the priority with him is to get him back healthy and help this team on the field. I know he's going to help the team in the locker room.”
Whether or not Higuain has marked the dates on his calendar, fans may wish to note that D.C. visit Columbus on June 20, with the return fixture at Audi Field set for Aug. 1.
“[I’m] the same guy I used to be, in my former clubs, you know. I love this game,” Higuain said. “This is my life. I grew up in a family of football; my father was a football player, my uncles. My father-in-law is another guy who works in football. My brother, he's a football player too. So football means a lot for me. So that's what I believe I will bring to this club – the passion for this game."