Heading into the 2016 campaign, one of the big questions surrounding Orlando City was whether or not defensive midfielder Cristian Higuita would be with the club by the end of the season.
The 22-year-old Colombian midfielder had a promising first season with the Lions in 2015, forming a strong duo with Darwin Ceren, but his follow-up year in MLS sung a different tune.
Higuita saw continuous shakeups in the defensive midfield, especially after Ceren was traded to San Jose in the middle of the year. He struggled to stay healthy and to play to his full potential at times and had trouble working back into new Head Coach Jason Kreis’ starting lineup due to the strong play of Antonio Nocerino and Servando Carrasco.
Still, Higuita’s future in professional soccer looks good.
Higuita saw a big decline in playing time over 2015, appearing in just 21 games (16 starts) this year — a drop in over 700 total minutes. Although a defensive midfielder by trade, Higuita took 11 shots, his only one on frame found the back of the net, to go along with an assist.
On the defensive side of the ball, Higuita collected a team-high 3.7 tackles per game, according to WhoScored.com — Darwin Ceren was the closest other player with 2.3 per game — in addition to 2.1 interceptions.
Perhaps his biggest adversary this season was the referees. Racking up 42 total fouls on the year — a team-high average of two per game — nine yellow cards, and one red, Higuita struggled with discipline all year long.
The one game that pops out in my mind as Higuita’s best in 2016 is the Lions’ 1-0 win over New York City FC back in March. Higuita was arguably the strongest player on the field for Orlando City in that one, tearing up NYCFC’s midfield with 13 tackles on the night, far more than anybody else on the team.
There were very few games where he was more effective in shutting down another team’s attacking line.
2016 Final Rating
The Mane Land has spoken and given Higuita a 6.5 rating for the season. He was good at times, but underwhelming after a strong 2015 campaign. His consistent fouling hurt the team, as the suspensions caught up to him and the club too often, in addition to already sub-par play.
Jason Kreis leaned heavily towards a Carrasco/Nocerino defensive midfield in the last few months of the season, which could say something about Higuita’s future with the club. Orlando City wouldn’t have any trouble selling Higuita overseas if the market was there, it’s just a matter of how much they’ll get for him at this point. If Kreis also switches to the diamond formation, that could leave Higuita on the outside looking in as less of a fit for the system.