SBI MLS Spotlight: Higuain enjoying life in America

Federico Higuain Getty Images

 

BY DAVE MARTINEZ

To understand the Columbus Crew’s Federico Higuain, you have to know where he is coming from. 

The dynamic forward, and the Crew's newest Designated Player, was born and raised in the bustling metropolis of Buenos Aires, and he comes from a culture where soccer is king.  In fact, it permeates nearly all parts of the Argentine lifestyle – from it’s politics to the country’s culture. The government is so vested in the sport, they provide it as an entitlement program to the masses by broadcasting games in a plan simply called “Futbol Para Todo” – or “Soccer for All.”  Supporters groups have input into the actual direction of the team with the majority of their clubs. Professional footballers live in gated homes as a precaution against the fiercely passionate and obsessed masses that have been known to stalk the occasional player and offer words of encouragement – or the type of venom that wouldn’t be fit to print.

Overall, it is the one area of Argentine life where all classes meet under one powerful common interest – their passion for the game.

You can imagine, then, the sheer culture shock Higuain has experienced since uprooting his family to the United States and finding himself in Columbus, Ohio, Major League Soccer’s second smallest market.

“I was just talking about this with one of my American teammates – in some very basic English,” Higuain said with a chuckle.  “He asked me if I liked the town, and really, I like it a lot.  I feel very comfortable, as much myself as well as my family.  In comparison, Buenos Aires is a huge city with a lot of life, lot’s of movement.  Here, it is a bit slower with more down time, more tranquility.  Honestly, I feel very comfortable here along with my family.  We are enjoying it.”

Higuain isn’t the first noteworthy Argentine name to call Columbus home.  Guillermo Barros Schelotto, a legend in Argentina’s fabled Boca Jrs. club, fell in love with the simplicities of life in Columbus and the competitive nature of Major League Soccer.  Upon making his move, Higuain reached out to “Guille” to get the lay of the land prior to his arrival.

“Basically, what he told me was mostly about what I would find in Columbus and the League; that the city was tranquil, beautiful, open with large grass fields – which is exactly what I found.  In respect to soccer, (he told me) where teams generally finish, where you can see great stadiums, fans.  Everything he has said is what I have found.  Just having the possibility to talk to someone as important as he is in my country, to have told me all this, and to find everything the way he said it, really, it was very positive for me.”

However, some things you simply have to live to believe.  Coming from the highly-guarded life of a footballer in his native land, Schelotto’s description of life in Ohio simply sounded too good to be true.

“Some things grab my attention as a foreigner,” he continued.  “The way people live here, I consider it how it should be to live around the world and the way it should be normally; living in a house that isn’t gated, without having to put the lock on the door, feeling secure in a home with all the doors wide open without fear of being robbed or some other terrible thing happening.  I see how people live here, how they comport themselves, leaving cars with keys in the engine.  Guillermo told me about these situations, and I am now here, I am living it and I see it and really, it’s really nice, especially when you have a family and children.”

The lifestyle preference isn’t a slight to the way things are done in Argentina, mind you.  In fact, Higuain finds it hard to draw any damning comparisons either culturally or professionally between the two countries.  Simply put, whether right or not, "futbol" carries a different meaning in South America.

“I don’t know how to tell you really,” he said.  “In South America, you understand things differently, you live things differently, and it’s just different.  I am not telling you that it’s right or wrong, just different.  Now if you ask me, it seems much more coherent that the relations between fans and players be more like it is here.  But well, that is my taste, what can I tell you.  Other people, maybe not.

“Soccer in Argentina is the number one sport of the country, the sport that practically moves the country, historically speaking. They allow a lot of things to go on.  In a sense, I think it’s a mistake.  For all the passions that move people, they should try to prohibit some of the things that happen, but these are issues that are years in the making, and hopefully will get better.  Today, it’s what happens, but hopefully will change.

“Comparing is difficult,” he continued.  “I can only tell you the way I see soccer.  It has become more physical with more importance put on the physical aspects of a player and not as much of the technique of the players.  It’s the wave of preference that has generated over the last few years and few teams count on those kinds of quality players, physically potent players, players that have superior qualities above others. 

“I am very happy about being in this country and playing in this league.  It’s a place that will provide you great facilities, a great place to work, the tranquility of attending a field and knowing everything goes the way it should, which is all about soccer and nothing more.  There are a ton of commodities to help a player that are also important.  That is what I feel, and what makes me happy.  Maybe some players like other things, other types of leagues, but I can only tell you how I feel and I feel very comfortable in the United States and playing in MLS.

“The organization of the league, the security to attend events, the game times, the dressing rooms, the stadiums, even the kits … I think everything is very well done.  The only thing a player is left to do is perform.”

Cultural adjustments aside, Higuain has played a large role in the Crew’s resurgence from playoff pretender to contender.  Eyes widened when Coach Robert Warzycha benched the red-hot Argentine striker for their encounter against the Red Bulls.  It turns out a heel injury was the culprit and the rest was a precaution to keep Higuain fresh for the stretch run.

“I’ve had a really strong pain in the heel of my right foot.  (Last Friday), the coaches and the medical staff recommended an infiltration, injecting a medicine where the pain was,” he said.  “In theory, five or six days, the inflammation should go away along with the pain.  The idea was to play a couple of minutes (against New York) if the coach thought it was necessary, knowing that Wednesday we have  another game coming and no player can miss more than a game because we are all important and necessary for the team. 

“Unfortunately, I had to sit out with a small injury but what I felt was a little bit of pain that was manageable.”

The Crew’s star striker expects to be fully healthy for their Wednesday home tilt against Chivas USA.

“We set a goal and we are working towards that.  I hope we can accomplish (making the playoffs).  I think we have the potential to do so but we have to keep on working.  Thankfully Wednesday we have a game and a chance to recover.”

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28 Responses to SBI MLS Spotlight: Higuain enjoying life in America

  1. pgloerse says:

    Seems like a very good person off the field and on.

  2. Nytshade says:

    I love how Columbus brings in players of talent AND class. There have been other teams bringing in players with ZERO class ~cough~NYRB~Marquez~cough~ and it is refreshing as a fan to see this. Plus, I’m sure that this quality filters down to the younger American players. When they can see that humility is a virtue, it makes them more focused as a team player rather than an individual. There was no doubting GBS’s contribution to Columbus’ MLS Cup and the “team element”. Let’s hope that the other teams learn something from Columbus’ example. Bravo!

  3. UVfutbolFC says:

    Fantastic article. This should be read by every foreign player who’s considering playing in MLS.

  4. abc says:

    Hopefully we see even more South Americans coming to MLS in the future since guys like GBS and Giguain have such nice things to say about it.

  5. Shane says:

    Great read. Thanks Ives.

  6. bryan says:

    good read, enjoyed this.

  7. Andrew says:

    Great interview! Need more like this.

  8. Doo Dah says:

    Marquez’ class on the pitch helped NY destroy Higuain’s Crew.

  9. Julio says:

    Columbus now seems much more potent in attack. They need to find a way to get better in the back.

  10. Petaluman says:

    Good article Dave.

  11. inkedAG says:

    Seems like a great person and a great soccer player.

  12. Gnarls says:

    I think you misread “class.” Higuain seems like a respectable, classy gentleman. Marquez acts like a d!ck.

  13. Gnarls says:

    Higuain seems like a gentleman and a great addition to the league. He highlights some facets of the US that may appeal to big name players: a calmer, more family-friendly stadium environment, high quality of life and a solid, financially stable league system. These are factors that may not exist in some South American and European countries, but they really add value to MLS.

  14. Gordo Stretch says:

    Excited about Crew’s future with this guy.

  15. Randy says:

    Guillermo who?

  16. JJJ says:

    Agree, I Like these kind of articles. Very interesting observations from a different culture.

  17. MLSsnob says:

    The crew remind me of Green Bay, small market, passionate fan base.

  18. A. Ruiz says:

    Pardo and Friedrich have said similar things, about living in Chicago. How they can just be normal people and how that is a huge draw at this stage in their career.

  19. KenC says:

    Given the awful macroeconomic situation in Argentina right now, it probably is as good a time as ever to find Argentine imports.

  20. Scott A says:

    Oh yeah, Andres Mendoza was pure class with the Crew. And Juan Pablo Angel typifies the classlessness of NY players.

  21. Chris says:

    Totally. Very nicely written Dave.

  22. Igor says:

    It’s actually Dave Martinez…

  23. LA G says:

    I can vouch for the big gates and electrified fences around homes in South America. It was just about all of them I saw in Ecuador, Peru, Panama, and Costa Rica.

  24. Nytshade says:

    While your point is a good one, as Mendoza was a total chode, when a player scores 15 goals for your club in one season and you don’t re-sign him, yes, I say that takes a lot of character (class) for a club. And I would like to apologize, because somehow JPA escaped my mind, and that man oozed talent and class. So wish he could have stayed with NYRB til the end.

  25. Scott A says:

    Cheers to that.

  26. tarc says:

    Sorry, hate to be a spelling bee otch, but it’s choad, not chode.

  27. Felix in PR says:

    Nice article, and yeah, Argentina has some serious crime in comparison to Columbus. That said, someone make sure he is not thinking all of the US is like that, I mean, Detroit will set that straight. As nice as Miami Beach might be Miami itself is not exactly wonder land. Even the great NYC has sections you gotta watch your butt in. I live in Puerto Rico where murders due to drug rivals wiping each other out is a daily happening. On this island if you have a house you best live in an enclosed neighborhood as well, maybe even have bars on your windows as to keep the thieves at bay. People who live with their doors open all the time and their keys in the car while shopping in a 7/11 are simply too trusting. It also comes with the territory though, I know that lots of smaller cities simply have more space, better manners, less pressure. When you have a city where everyone is on top of each other, with lots of pressure, less opportunity… it gets ugly quick.