The number 33 is largely uncommon to see on the field in a soccer match. But when Federico Higuaín joined the Columbus Crew in August 2012, Chilean midfielder Milovan Mirosevic occupied the prestigious number 10 kit. The Argentine opted for the 33 jersey and has played in it ever since.
Entering his third season in Black & Gold and with the number 10 jersey unworn, the Argentine started with a simple question on Twitter:
For next year .. I number 33 or number 10!!! What do you think? #Crew96— Federico Higuain (@FHiguain_33) January 5, 2014
The fans spoke, and the Crew's offensive maestro will don the number 10 kit in 2014. Perhaps no one in Major League Soccer is more suited to wear the number 10, the traditional number of a playmaker in world football.
For all intents and purposes, Higuaín has been the Black & Gold's number 10 -- all while wearing the 33 jersey -- on the field for the past season-and-a-half with his surgical passing in the final third and breath-taking goals. His finesse in front of goal has earned the forward the praise, "I believe in Higuaín" coming from Crew Stadium's Nordecke. Since Higuaín played his first match in Black & Gold in a 2-2 road draw against the Houston Dynamo on August 20, 2012, he has quietly become one of Major League Soccer's top attackers.
Only LA Galaxy striker Robbie Keane has produced more goals and assists since Higuaín's MLS debut, making the Argentine all the more deserving of the honorable number 10 kit.
|Player||Goals||Assists||Total Goals Created since 08/20/12|
|Robbie Keane (LA)||21||14||35|
|Federico Higuaín (CLB)||16||16||32|
|Thierry Henry (NY)||14||14||28|
|Chris Wondolowski (SJ)||20||5||25|
|Javier Morales (RSL)||9||14||23|
|**Diego Valeri (POR)||10||13||23|
**Joined MLS in 2013
From Maradona to Messi, the number 10 has long been associated with the Argentine enganche around the soccer world. While the 4-4-2 formation -- in both the flat and diamond variations -- is the most popular around MLS, and the wing-dominated 4-3-3 lineup has recently helped Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers to success, the enganche is a rare breed in MLS.
Higuaín is perhaps the best example of true number 10 playmaker in MLS, playing as the withdrawn, roving forward in the Crew's 4-4-2 over the past two seasons. Portland's Diego Valeri, who plays an advanced role in the Timbers' three-man midfield, and Real Salt Lake's Javier Morales playing at the tip of the Claret-and-Cobalt's diamond midfield serve as two other examples.
Even before Higuaín, Crew fans were all too familiar of the impact that a true number 10 can have on the game. 2008 MLS Most Valuable Player Guillermo Barros Schelotto led the Black & Gold to the 2008 MLS Cup and the MLS Supporters' Shield in 2008 and 2009 playing as the club's withdrawn forward in attack. Schelotto wore the number 7 shirt while his attack running mate Alejandro Moreno ironically wore the 10 jersey. Schelotto's 19 assists in 2008 remain tied for the second-highest mark in an MLS season and his 33 goals over three-and-a-half seasons is fifth-best in Crew history.
A fair amount of responsibility and discipline comes with the number 10 role in soccer. Higuaín has flourished in the role over the past two seasons despite the pressure that comes with the position, even earning the captain's armband in 2013.
Now with a new coach in Gregg Berhalter and a new number on his back, Crew fans hope to see the same old Higuaín in 2014 -- just in a different number.