One of the more underrated positions on Orlando City this season is defensive midfield. The combination of Colombian youngster Cristian Higuita and USL holdover Darwin Cerén has made life uncomfortable for City's opponents all season long.
On Saturday night, both also found themselves on the score sheet, turning in complete performances in a dominating 5-2 victory over Columbus Crew SC.
"I don't want to keep talking them up too much because somebody will come try to buy the pair of them I think, the way they're (playing) at the minute," Head Coach Adrian Heath quipped in Saturday night's postgame press conference. "They're both outstanding players. I think that we have two of the better midfield players in the league."
Higuita and Cerén must be miserable for opposing teams to play against. They are seventh and 15th, respectively, in Major League Soccer in fouls committed and first and second, respectively, on the club in tackles per game (3.7 and 3.6).
"I always talk about, do people enjoy playing against you? That for me is a big sign," Heath said. "I guarantee you people don't enjoy playing against them two. They never stop. They get after you -- 90 minutes of effort, great at winning balls back, great at breaking up play -- all the things that you need from midfield players."
They've broken up play well since the season began, which is all well and good, but on Saturday night against Columbus, both brought new elements to their game by showing an ability to turn those breakups into offense and get forward on the counter attack. Each was rewarded with a goal. For Cerén, it was just his second MLS goal and it was the first for Higuita.
"I'm very happy because it's something I was looking forward to -- scoring my first goal in this club and in MLS and I want to thank God and my family for this," Higuita said after the match, translated from his native Spanish.
The 21-year-old Colombian celebrated his goal in front of the stands, then ran all over the field, hugging everyone in purple he could find.
"Of course I hugged everyone because my teammates really care about me. They always pay attention to my performance," he said. "It's very good, because they have my back. In a moment like this I thank them and I'm very grateful having teammates like this."
The duo has played so well that veteran Amobi Okugo, who was brought in to be a leader on the club, couldn't get on the field and was summarily traded to Sporting Kansas City.
On Saturday, Cerén and Higuita each had two tackles -- tied for the most by non-defenders. Defensively, they combined for five clearances and Cerén added four interceptions. Offensively, they each successfully completed more than 80% of their passes and they combined for four key passes, in addition to scoring. Cerén's five shots, according to WhoScored.com, was second on the team only to striker Cyle Larin.
Add in the play of newcomer Servando Carrasco, who completed 90.2% of his 41 passes and connected with Corey Ashe on a long pass that led to a goal, and the Lions obviously have an outstanding group in the defensive midfield.