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2019 Orlando City Season in Review: Cristian Higuita

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The last original MLS Lion had an injury-plagued fifth season in the league.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Orlando City SC Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Cristian Higuita was one of Orlando City’s original MLS Lions, arriving in January of 2015 along with fellow Colombian Carlos Rivas. Just 20 years old at the time, Higuita has grown up in front of us in Orlando over the last five seasons and was just starting to seriously play to his potential in 2019 when injuries started to keep him out of the lineup more often than not.

Let’s take a look at the season that was for Higuita.

Statistical Breakdown

Higuita played in a career-low nine matches in 2019, making just seven starts. Adductor and hamstring issues limited him to just 648 MLS minutes. He did not score a goal — just one year removed from netting a career-high four — but did add two assists. He got only one of his six shot attempts on frame this season.

With an 85.9% passing accuracy, Higuita finished fifth on the team, but he was third among midfielders, finishing below Sebas Mendez (90.1%) and Will Johnson (86.8%). Higuita took a more defensive role in 2019 than he was charged with last year, which resulted in an average of just 0.3 key passes per game to go along with his lack of goals and low shot total.

As usual, Higuita was a defensive beast, leading the team in tackles per game (2.7). He also averaged an interception, 0.8 clearances, and 0.2 blocks per match. Fouls are still a problem with the Colombian, as he racked up five yellow cards in his nine games, just one fewer than he received last year across 21 appearances. He committed 14 fouls and drew 15 on the competition.

Higuita also appeared in two of Orlando City’s four U.S. Open Cup matches this past season, starting both and playing 121 minutes. He notched an assist on Sacha Kljestan’s 55th-minute goal against Memphis 901 and attempted six shots (one on target) in the competition, with five of those (none on target) coming at Memphis.

Best Game

For me, Higuita was a beast in the 2-2 draw against LAFC on Sept. 7. The Colombian was involved in both Orlando City goals and the space in the midfield that he had been bossing was noticeably more open for the visitors after he left the match.

If not for a slight deflection off a defender, Higuita would have had a primary assist on Nani’s goal, which tied the game at 1-1 at the time. The defensive-minded Higuita showed uncanny vision against the Supporters’ Shield winners and this was the earliest sign of it.


Then, later in the match he got a secondary assist on Benji Michel’s goal. Watch the way he sends Ruan into space in the buildup:

He also set up Uri Rosell for a goal that was disallowed, won an aerial, made three tackles, and had two interceptions. I was on player grades duty that night and gave him a solid eight for his performance despite a lower-than-expected passing rate of 56%. The reader poll was neck and neck, with Ruan barely edging him out, mirroring my own view of the match.

2019 Final Grade

The fifth-year Lion received a composite score of 6 out of 10 from The Mane Land staff. Higuita started the season a bit slowly but really came on strong as it progressed. He played some of his most consistent minutes yet in MLS over the course of 2019. While it’s unfortunate that his offensive numbers were down and indeed he rarely seemed even remotely interested to have a go, despite scoring a few from the top of the box last year, his defense was strong. It was the injuries that truly derailed his 2019 season.

2020 Outlook

Higuita had a long-term deal with Orlando when he arrived in 2015 and that has expired. The Colombian will need to be re-signed to return in 2020 and with a crowded and expensive defensive midfield, and no new coach yet hired, it’s uncertain whether that will happen. If Higuita has played his final game with Orlando, that’s sad, as he’s the last remaining original from the inaugural season. Although Higuita has shown signs of being a true MLS midfield stopper, he didn’t quite live up to his guaranteed compensation of more than $611,000 even when fully fit. He was good — much more consistent than in the past — but for that kind of money one would expect more. (He made more than Cristian Roldan this year.) I think Orlando wouldn’t mind bringing him back for a bit less money but I expect the Lions to want to get faster and more dynamic in 2020. I believe multiple midfielders making more than $400,000 will leave this off-season but whether Higuita will be one of them remains to be seen.


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