Soccer

FRANK DELL’APA | SOCCER NOTEBOOK

Federico Higuain is one that got away from the Revolution

Columbus Crew SC forward Federico Higuain (10) chases the ball against D.C. United forward Paul Arriola (7) during the second half of an MLS playoff soccer match, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, in Washington. The Crew SC won 2-2 (3-2) in penalty kicks. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
nick wass/AP
Federico Higuain had six goals in the regular season for Columbus.

Argentinian Federico Higuain has been sparking the Columbus Crew with spectacular play in the MLS playoffs. But Higuain nearly became a Revolution player two years ago.

After Higuain and Kei Kamara clashed over a penalty-kick attempt in a Crew game in May 2016, Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter decided one had to go. The Revolution were given the choice: Higuain or Kamara. They decided on Kamara, since they had a proven playmaker (Lee Nguyen) and needed a striker.

Kamara led the Revolution in scoring in 2016 (nine goals all competitions, after converting five times in nine games for the Crew) and ’17 (12 goals). But both Kamara and Nguyen departed after 2017, the Revolution compensated with allocation money. The Revolution also gained allocation money after failing to acquire Ecuadorean Romario Ibarra, projected as Nguyen’s replacement, who went to Minnesota United this season.

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The Crew have been able to compensate for the loss of Kamara via the scoring of Ola Kamara and Justin Meram in 2017, and Gyasi Zardes this season.

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Meanwhile, the Revolution went this season without a game-breaking striker on the roster. Kei Kamara, who totaled 17 goals in all competitions for Vancouver this season, could have provided a point of reference for the Revolution. Coach Brad Friedel might have had to modify his reliance on high-pressing tactics, but the Revolution attack could have used a finisher like Kamara to capitalize on Cristian Penilla’s wing play.

Both Higuain and Kamara are 34, but players in their 30s are showing they can be dominant in MLS. Five of the league’s top 10 scorers were 30-plus years old (including Kamara) this season. Others not among the top 10 included Sebastian Giovinco, 31, who had 18 goals in 37 games in all competitions for Toronto FC, and Wayne Rooney, 33, who squeezed 12 goals into 3½ months with D.C. United.

Higuain might have been a better choice than Kamara for the Revolution in 2016, considering Nguyen had become disenchanted after a salary dispute. Nguyen was an unofficial holdout in 2015, missing the opener. Nguyen, an MVP finalist in 2014 and the Revolution’s No. 2 all-time scorer, gave strong performances from 2015-17 and missed only six games (at least one for disciplinary reasons in 2017).

By 2016, Nguyen’s pay had been raised from $193,000 to $500,000 annually. But in 2017, he was seventh on the team’s salary list, according to the MLS Players Union. Nguyen requested a trade and again became a holdout before moving to Los Angeles FC.

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So, had the Revolution opted for Higuain in 2016, they would have had to take on his salary ($1.1 million) and also gone shopping for a striker, likely a costly transaction.

It is speculation whether the Revolution would have qualified for the playoffs with Higuain in any of the last three years. But had they done so, Higuain is showing that the Revolution could have been a factor in the postseason.

US help needed

In 2012, the Nos. 1 and 2 scorers in MLS were domestic players (Chris Wondolowski and Kenny Cooper), and six US-born players finished the season among the top 10. As recently as 2014, there were four US players in the top 10 MLS scorers.

But in the last four seasons, a total of four US-born players (Wondolowski, C.J. Sapong, Jozy Altidore, Gyasi Zardes) have been ranked among the top 10. The 2016 MLS season marked the first time no US-born players were in the top 10. This year, only the Crew’s Zardes finished among the top 10.

Nor do there seem to be many striker prospects being developed in the US. Of the top 55 MLS scorers, only five were US-born; the youngest was Real Salt Lake’s Corey Baird, 22, who totaled eight goals.

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Neither Baird nor Zardes was named to the US national team 28-man roster for games against England at Wembley Stadium on Nov. 15 and Italy in Genk, Belgium, on Nov. 20. Coach Dave Sarachan’s team has two forwards listed: Germany-based Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen) and Bobby Wood (Hannover 96).

The US team competing in the CONCACAF Under-20 Championships is showcasing some impressive talent, including the Revolution’s Isaac Angking.

Former Revolution Academy star Justin Rennicks, 19, has totaled three goals in three games, after scoring six goals in 17 games for Indiana University this season. Rennicks has displayed a good attacking sense as both a finisher and setup man, but there are questions about his ability to produce goals at the next level.

A place to start?

Friedel apparently intends to build the Revolution around Michael Mancienne, who captained the team in the season finale and is the highest-paid defender in MLS ($1.37 million).

If Friedel can solidify the team’s central defensive pairing, it could give the Revolution a chance for a successful season. Jalil Anibaba and Antonio Delamea proved to be effective next to Mancienne.

Friedel attempted to set up a foundation for the Revolution in his first season as coach, but needed to have the right players in place. The Revolution lacked back-line consistency, utilizing six central defensive combinations this season.