The Columbus Crew started Saturday night's match at Red Bull Arena with their best player on the bench and, by the time he entered in the 90th minute, their starting goalkeeper was being attended to in the locker room.
Not surprisingly, the Crew eventually fell apart in a 3-1 loss at New York that put a crimp in their playoff hopes.
While Red Bulls’ Designated Player Thierry Henry dazzled the home crowd with a two goals, including an "Olimpico" off a ridiculously well-struck corner kick in the 93rd minute to seal the win, Columbus Designated Player Federico Higuaín was scratched from the Crew starting lineup by manager Robert Warzycha because of pain beneath the big toe of his right foot.
“He had an injection on Wednesday,” Warzycha told MLSsoccer.com by phone after the match. “It’s probably a week for it to heal. He knew he was good for 15 minutes today.
“He was warming up and didn’t have pain so we took a risk. If he tried to play today and had more pain he would be out the next week or so and we could lose him for the next two or three games.”
Trailing 2-1 after Dax McCarty put the Red Bulls ahead in the 79th minute – a play on which Crew No. 1 Andy Gruenebaum dove head first into the goal post in an effort to make the save and had to leave the match with cuts to his head as well as a sore back – Higuaín was called upon in an effort to save Columbus again.
The Argentine had three goals and three assists in his first six matches and twice assisted on stoppage-time winners during a four-game winning streak that was snapped in the Crew’s (12-10-6) previous outing at New England on Sept. 5.
But for Saturday's match, Columbus were forced to have an extra player travel – forward Olman Vargas – just in case Higuaín did not dress.
“We didn’t want to start [Higuaín] and take him out after 15 minutes or a half-hour because of the pain,” Warzycha said. “It was a risk to put him in, but we were hoping he could get a free kick or a corner kick and we’d score. We said coming off he had no pain.”
Midfielder Milovan Mirosevic, who gave the Crew the lead in the third minute, said the team learned on Friday that Higuaín would not start.
“We practiced two days before without him so we weren’t surprised and we had a chance to prepare to play without him,” Mirosevic said.
That didn’t make it any easier, because Higuaín had helped Columbus develop a swagger since joining the club a month ago.
“He can do something special on the field, whether it’s a free kick or putting somebody into space,” Warzycha said. “Maybe he gives us more confidence. I’m sure he does.”
The Crew could use a healthy Higuaín when they host Chivas USA on Wednesday. The 42 points Columbus has accumulated in the standings are two behind D.C. United for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with six matches remaining.
“He is going to be ready for Wednesday,” Warzycha said.