SIRK’S NOTEBOOK: Pipa goes streaking

In his most recent home appearance, Federico Higuain joined the 40/40 Club, becoming the third player in Columbus Crew SC history to tally 40 goals and 40 assists for the club. What to do for an encore? How about score a goal in his fourth consecutive match, becoming only the seventh player in club history to have a scoring streak of four or more games?

Yes, that’ll do.

Pipa entered the record books in the 17th minute when his direct free kick skimmed off the top of the Montreal wall and sailed under the crossbar to give Columbus a 1-0 lead.

He added an 88th minute goal for good measure.

“He scored in four straight games? I didn’t know that,” said Josh Williams, who in 2012 was convinced that Higuain would reach the 1,000/1,000 Club instead of just the 40/40 Club. “That’s amazing. Good for him. To me, though, I don’t have anything good to say until he gets to the 1,000/1,000.”

As if I could have possibly thought he was serious, Williams clarified that he was just kidding.

“That’s an amazing stat,” he said. “Pipa’s one of those where he’s a special player. He’s the guy who makes the team tick. Do you know the stat of when he scores, what our record is? I’d like to know that. When he goes, we go. He’s such an important part of our team. He’s the engine. We’re doing well when he’s getting opportunities.”

To answer Josh’s question, Crew SC is 24-9-7 all-time when Higuain scores a goal, although oddly just 4-4-0 this season. Surely that’s just an aberration. The only way to tell for sure is for him to keep scoring goals. It’s a hypothesis that would welcome numerous tests over the remaining 16 games.

In the first game past the midpoint of the 2017 season, Higuain has upped his season totals to nine goals and five assists. He had just four goals and three assists in the entirety of his injury-plagued 2016 campaign.

“You look at the difference when he’s healthy and performing, whereas last year he wasn’t healthy enough and wasn’t with the team all the time and we struggled,” said Captain Wil Trapp. “Now that he’s getting assists and scoring goals, it makes all the difference for us.”

Higuain was definitely a difference maker on Saturday. In addition to his two goals, he set up the buildup to Kekuta Manneh’s go-ahead goal with a ridiculous bit of skill in the middle of the park. The play didn’t result in an official assist, but it was still preposterous and it made the goal possible. I just watch it over and over and over. That actually happened.

Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter used that play as an example of how Higuain is more than just goal or assist totals.

“It’s what he does every day, what he does in the training complex, what he does in the games, how he can lift his teammates, how he can bring his teammates into the game,” Berhalter said. “When you see the awareness that he had on Kekuta’s goal, to play it over the top right away, I mean, he knew exactly what was happening in that play. He knew Kekuta could get isolated and it was a really heads-up play. You don’t see too many guys in the league that could make a play like that. So Federico is great and we are happy that he’s able to score and play the way that he has."

*****

Now that Pipa has joined the party, here’s an updated list of four-game and five-game goal scoring streaks in Crew SC history, including a supportive note from a club legend!

CREW SC PLAYERS WITH GOALS IN FOUR CONSECUTIVE GAMES

Stern John (8/16/1998 – 9/6/1998)

Stern scored eight goals over the course of four consecutive matches. The streak started with a hat-trick — upon coming on as a 53rd minute substitute. After torching Kansas City for those three goals, he bagged two against Tampa and LA, then a single tally against the MetroStars. The streak ended when he merely assisted on a Jeff Cunningham goal in a 1-0 win over Miami.

Stern John (9/16/1998 – 9/27/1998)

A scant 10 days after his first four-game streak got snapped, John launched another four-game streak. It was kind of like Joe DiMaggio launching a 16-game hitting streak after his 56-gamer got snapped. This time, John scored six goals over four consecutive matches. Two goals against Colorado, one at Colorado, one against Tampa Bay, then two at D.C. United. This last run pushed John’s 1998 goal tally to 26.

“I’ve never had a streak like that in my life,” John said of his late-season surge during a visit to Columbus in 2015. “At that time, I was in a zone. I didn’t know how many goals I was scoring.” Thankfully, other people were keeping track.

Stern John  (6/26/1999 – 7/7/1999)

This friggin’ guy. The next year, he notched six goals during another four-game streak. One against MetroStars, two against San Jose, two at Colorado, and one against D.C. United. Oh by the way, the second goal vs. San Jose during this streak was the famous “THREE SECONDS TO PLAY!” goal. I never get tired of watching that clip.

Edson Buddle (8/9/2003 – 8/23/2003)

Edson Buddle added his name to the list with a goal a game for four straight games. In the span of two weeks, he scored at LA, against Chicago, at Colorado, and at Dallas. While three of the four games being on the road adds to Buddle’s accomplishment, it also explains why Columbus went 1-2-1 during his streak.

Jeff Cunningham (5/23/2004 – 6/12/2004)

Out of Cunningham’s 134 career MLS goals, only 20 had come from the penalty spot. It turns out that three of those came in a three-week stretch as Cunningham ignited a 3-0-1 run that gave the Black & Gold their first spurt toward an eventual Supporters’ Shield after a slow start to the 2004 season. He converted a penalty in a 3-1 win against Chicago. Then he scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win against San Jose. Then his penalty kick was the difference in a 2-1 win at New England. Then he opened the scoring with a conventional goal before equalizing with a penalty in a 2-2 draw against Kansas City. It was a neat streak. If the first goal is important, he scored the first goal in three of those four games. He also scored two game-winning goals and a game-tying goal.

Ross Paule (8/18/2004 – 9/4/2004)

Crew SC finished the years on an 18-game unbeaten streak to claim the first Supporter’s Shield in club history. In games eight through 11 of the streak, Ross Paule scored six goals over four consecutive matches. A penalty in a 2-1 win against Kansas City. Another goal in a 2-2 draw against D.C. United. Then the game-tying penalty in a 1-1 draw at the MetroStars. And then he exploded for a hat trick in a 3-1 win vs. the LA Galaxy. Ross Paule scored seven goals in 2004 — six of them in those four consecutive games!

Ethan Finlay (9/27/2014 – 10/19/2014)

2014 was Ethan Finlay's breakout season and he finished it in a big way, scoring in four straight late-season games. The streak started with a 2nd-minute goal in a 2-0 win vs. Montreal on September 27. A week later, he scored the lone goal in a 2-1 loss in New England. On October 11, his 78th minute goal was the first of three Columbus goals in the span of barely four minutes for an improbable avalanche of a 3-2 comeback victory in Philadelphia. He capped the streak with a goal and two assists in a 3-1 win at Red Bull Arena. Finlay's streak was snapped in the season finale, a 2-1 Columbus victory vs. Philadelphia.

Federico Higuain (5/31/2017 – current)

Higuain’s streak started with a goal and an assist in a 3-0 demolishing of the defending champion Seattle Sounders. He then took his show on the road and scored what would have been the game-winner if not for a late-game collapse in a 2-1 loss at Colorado. In Atlanta, he tallied the loan goal in a 3-1 loss. Then he came back home and scored the opening and closing goals in a 4-1 triumph over Montreal. Up next: Atlanta United again, this time at MAPFRE Stadium, and Pipa will be chasing a legend.

Because…

CREW SC PLAYERS WITH GOALS IN FIVE STRAIGHT GAMES

Brian McBride (3/21/1998 – 4/18/1998)

Brian McBride started his 1998 campaign at a steady 32-goal pace for the 32-game season. He opened the season with a goal in a 2-1 win at Tampa Bay. Then he scored in a 2-1 loss at Dallas. Then he scored the game-winner in a 2-1 victory against D.C. United in the first game I ever covered. Then he scored the 88th minute game-winner in a 3-2 victory against New England. Then he scored in a 5-1 rout against Miami. The streak ended in a shootout loss at RFK Stadium. Nonetheless, his hot and consistent start to the MLS campaign sealed McBride’s invitation to the 1998 World Cup in France, where he scored the only American goal in the tournament. He scored five more goals later in the season upon returning to Columbus, but not in consecutive games.

*****

This coming Saturday against Atlanta, Higuain will have a chance to step onto the MAPFRE Stadium field and equal a record held by one of the greatest names in club history, Circle of Honor inductee Brian McBride. Every Crew SC fan in attendance will be rooting for him to do so, but Pipa will also have an interested party cheering him on from Chicago.

Questions? Comments? Hoping you get to see Cinco de Pipa on Saturday at MAPFRE Stadium? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk
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