It took longer than they would have liked, but in the end, the Columbus Crew feel they made the right choice in signing Argentine forward Federico Higuaín as the third Designated Player in club history on Friday.
The 27-year-old Higuaín played the last two seasons for Club Atlético Colón, where he scored 10 goals in 62 games for the Argentine team.
“Obviously, you look at the goals he’s scored and his assists and he will be focus of our attack but he will make all our players better,” Crew head coach Robert Warzycha told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Kansas City.
Columbus had been in pursuit of the 5-foot-8, 165-pounder since last year and had contract discussions with him, though his agent and club could not come to an agreement in January.
“We promised the fans we would get a DP,” Warzycha said. “We’re sorry we couldn’t get it done sooner, but we had to get the right one. We could have tried to sign somebody else, but he is the player we wanted, the one that gets us excited and should get the fans excited.”
Crew technical director Brian Bliss went to Argentina in late May to hold talks but came back without a deal, and it appeared that Higuaín was off the radar after the sides didn’t talk for a month.
Bliss got a call Sunday from Higuaín’s agent and the pact was completed Wednesday night, tying the player to the team through the 2014 season.
“It was dormant for a long period of time,” Bliss said. “But there were some bricks in the foundation, so to speak, in terms of earlier negotiations and we had motivated parties that wanted to get something done.”
The Crew have been without a DP since declining to pick up the option of forward Andrés Mendoza after the 2011 season. Although the Peruvian led the team with 13 goals, he did not mesh with the players or coaches and was considered a liability, according to Crew officials.
However, Columbus (7-7-4) have scored only 18 goals in 18 games after revamping the offense. They signed Chilean midfielder Milovan Mirosevic and Costa Rican forward Olman Vargas in January and Costa Rican forward Jairo Arrieta in June.
Higuaín has also played in Argentina for Godoy Cruz (2009-10), Independiente (2008-09), River Plate (2003-05, 2007-08) and Nueva Chicago (2005-06) as well as Mexico’s Club América (2008) and Besiktas in Turkey (2008).
While fans may want to draw comparisons to former Crew standout Guillermo Barros Schelotto – the Argentine who became the team’s first Designated Player and the 2008 MLS MVP in Columbus' MLS Cup-winning season – Warzycha would only say, “I hope [Higuaín] has as much success for us as Guillermo did.”
The coach said the team is working on getting Higuaín his International Transfer Certificate to be eligible to play as quickly as possible.
“He has been training in preseason with his team,” Warzycha said. "He is fit and can play right away."