Announced as a new signing in January of this year, Cristian Higuita came to Orlando City by way of Colombian top flight Deportivo Cali as a veteran of the Colombian national system, making an impact at both the U-17 and U-20 levels. Originally coming off the bench, Higuita established himself in the starting lineup following a bad spell of form from Amobi Okugo and never looked back.
Higuita is a darling of analytics, going from relatively unknown signing to an MLS second-best tackling rate of 4.3 per game. He rounded his defensive stats out nicely, contributing 1.8 interceptions and one clearance per game as well, teaming with Darwin Cerén to consistently disrupt the offensive flow of opponents.
Offensively, Cristian continues to shine. His team-leading passing rate of 87% was good enough for seventh in the league and, while it can be argued his 0.8 key passes per game left a bit to be desired, few can ignore that efficient passing leads to scoring opportunities.
He appeared in 26 MLS matches, starting 25 and playing 2,228 minutes, scoring a goal and adding two assists. The defensive-minded Colombian attempted only 12 shots all season, scoring on the only one he put on target. He committed 73 fouls and collected 10 yellow cards and a red. He tied for the MLS lead in fouls with Luis Garrido and Tony Tchani, and tied for fourth in the league in yellow cards.
Shown here transitioning from defense to offense in the blink of an eye, Higuita did a fantastic job blending both efficiency and aggression in becoming one of the more influential defensive midfielders in MLS.
It's hard to point to just one game and say, "yeah, that's the best Cristian Higuita we saw this season." He was maniacal in September against the Chicago Fire, tackling anything with a shadow to finish with 11 on the night while completing 86.9% of his passes.
He scored his only goal in the 5-2 drubbing of the Columbus Crew, working hard in the box to make his forehead available to Kaká's service for the fifth and final goal of the match.
On top of the assist to Kaká's goal against the Colorado Rapids in the clip shown earlier, Higuita totaled five interceptions to go with his 90.1% passing rate and 89 total touches, completely controlling the flow of the game with his midfield partner Cerén.
And it was against the LA Galaxy that Cristian put forth one of his best all-around defensive performances, totaling five tackles, two interceptions and four clearances against one of the more feared attacks MLS has to offer.
Simply put, if you ask me to pick one game from Cristian Higuita to call the best, I can't decide on just one. The young man was so vital in so many games, though I tend to lean ever so slightly towards the match against the Fire. Eleven tackles is downright absurd, and we were all lucky to have witnessed the feat.
Sure to draw the attention of clubs from all over the world, Higuita's future with Orlando City is both uncertain and as bright as one could hope for. While he started the 2015 season on the bench, it became clear as the year wore on that he was a shining star in the midfield, making for an intimidating duo with either Cerén or midseason acquisition Servando Carrasco. Regardless of who lined up across from Cristian, the result was always an impressive one -- a testament to the versatility and adaptability of the 21-year-old Colombian.
Should he find himself in purple come March, Higuita will surely become both more effective and more respected league wide. He took over the midfield early in the season, he took over the city as the year wore on, and in 2016, Higuita takes over MLS.
Final 2015 Rating
Given an official score of 7.0 by The Mane Land staff, Higuita's influence was not under appreciated by those that cover his career. His ability to be the most impactful player on the pitch both offensively and defensively makes him an incredible asset to Adrian Heath's lineup, one capable of making bigger waves as he still has more growth to come.