“First of all, I don’t think you ever replace Pipa.”
President & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko, who described the situation as one of the hardest professional decisions he has ever had to make, went into detail on the impact the soon-to-be 35-year-old Argentine had on the Club and the legacy he is leaving as a player.
“I want to thank Pipa on behalf of our club and our ownership group and really thank Pipa for everything that he has been for this club,” Bezbatchenko said on Monday afternoon.
“He is an absolute legend; he is respected from top to bottom in our organization. These decisions we don’t take lightly. In my time being in the League, it’s one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever had to make, or I’ve had to make personally.”
Head Coach Caleb Porter, who has spent nearly two decades in the coaching ranks between NCAA Div. I, U.S. Soccer, and Major League Soccer, said Higuain is amongst the top players he has ever coached.
“I want to say that I really enjoyed the short amount of time that I worked with Pipa. He’s up there with the best players I ever coached and obviously he has done a ton for this club. I mean, what he has done for this club is immeasurable,” Porter said.
"These decisions are obviously never easy ... You have a guy that has done a lot for the club and you want to honor them but also you have to be mindful of what’s best for the club moving forward," Porter continued. "Nothing is going to change in terms of what he has done for the club and the way people should view him. Like I said, I enjoyed being able to work with him and wish I had more time to work with him. He’s a first-class professional and a top player.”
Higuain stands as the Club’s leading assist provider, as well as one of only 21 players in Major League Soccer history to record 50 assists and 50 goals. The eight-year MLS veteran also holds Club records for assists (63), game-winning assists (20), penalty-kick goals (19), as well as the most Team MVP nominations (3) in addition to his 2012 MLS Newcomer of the Year award.
The path forward invokes a new task for the Club, as the Crew’s style of play and identity remains an evolving process in what will be a formative offseason for the Black & Gold ahead of the 2020 season.
“After [Higuain’s] injury, as our fans and our club saw, we evolved and we had to move away from a certain style of play that was more about possession-based and as everyone saw, we had some success with being a little bit more transition oriented and counter-pressing, what we are calling being decisive and relentless on both sides of the ball,” Bezbatchenko said. “Again, there are many factors that went into [Higuain’s roster decision], but primarily it was due to the change that we see in this club and style of play.
That said, the Bezbatchenko laid clear one thing – there will always be an open door for Pipa in a new role.
“[Higuain] is always welcome here. We would certainly entertain and have already talked to him about a role in the front office, or in the academy or in the coaching ranks – we have an open mind about that,” Bezbatchenko said.
“At the same time, as everyone knows, he’s an extremely competitive person and you can obviously speak to him directly, but right now, I believe he’d love to continue playing. So we want to help him any way we can, but the day he continues to stop playing, there’s always a friendly face and the door is open for him at Columbus Crew SC.”