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A Focused Cristian Higuita Can Be Useful For the Lions in 2018

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Playing simple and doing what he does best, the Colombian may have a role with Orlando City.

MLS: Orlando City SC at New York City FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 MLS season started differently for Cristian Higuita than seasons past. An important piece of Orlando City SC’s roster in each of the past three years, playing at least 21 matches in each campaign, the Colombian was used only twice in the six games the Lions have played so far, logging just 128 minutes on the field.

However, the 24-year-old midfielder needed only 61 minutes against the Philadelphia Union last Friday to show that, if used in the right role, he can be a useful piece in the revamped Lions’ roster.

Higuita came onto the field in the 29th minute to replace the injured RJ Allen and played a fairly simple but efficient game. The Colombian shielded the Lions’ back line to its first clean sheet of the season, amassing two tackles, two interceptions, eight recoveries and one clearance.

More surprisingly, though, he had a 94.7% passing accuracy (the highest on the team for players who passed at least seven times), completing most of the 33 passes he attempted during the match, according to WhoScored.com.

“Cristian, I think, for me, was one of the top performers tonight,” Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the match. “He’s been training really, really well, so we knew he was ready.”

The graphic below, containing Higuita’s defensive actions and his passing chart, explains the midfielder’s performance in the best possible way:

Image: MLSSoccer.com

As you can see, Higuita was not brilliant, but he was effective. And that’s probably the good news for him in 2018. With players like Yoshimar Yotun, Sacha Kljestan, and Justin Meram around him, he doesn’t need to be brilliant at all.

If he can cover a lot of ground, win important balls, and pass properly over the course of the entire match, as he did against the Union, he will certainly have a spot on the team’s game day roster and will see minutes regularly.

One aspect of Higuita’s game which is still a work in progress, though, is his focus. The Colombian has shown multiple times he can play, but he constantly puts the team in trouble with his sometimes excessive aggressiveness on the field. His 162 fouls and 28 yellow cards over 75 matches with the Lions show it.

In 2018, even playing only portions of two matches, he already ranks first on the roster in fouls committed (2.5 per game) and got an early yellow card against New York City FC that could have jeopardized the team. Part of that is just a consequence of his role as a defensive midfielder, but several of Higuita’s fouls and cards could be avoided if he had made better decisions.

Even if it might be hard for Higuita to earn a starting spot when Oriol Rosell is fully match fit and in good form, the Colombian is a unique kind of hard-working defensive midfielder on Orlando’s roster and could be an important piece of the team going forward, as he showed on Friday.