When Federico Higuain was considering a move to Columbus Crew SC in 2012, one of his most important phone calls was to the undisputed best player in club history.
Higuain called Guillermo Barros Schelotto, his Argentine countryman and a former MLS MVP who won an MLS Cup and two Supporters’ Shield trophies with Columbus between 2007 and 2010.
Schelotto was an important Argentine player, and a mainstay with Boca Juniors and Gimnasia La Plata for 15 years before signing with Columbus, his first move away from Argentina. So when Schelotto talked about “the city, about the club, about the guys and the life here in America,” Higuain was sold.
“For us, Guillermo Barros Schelotto is a big name in Argentina,” Higuain said. “We respect him a lot as a player and as a human being. So when I was listening to him and what he told me about Columbus, I thought ‘OK, this guy had this experience in Columbus. Being what he was, if he had that type of life in Columbus, I think it’s going to be a good experience if I go there.’”
Five years later, Higuain and Schelotto are still tied together in the history of the club.
At this point, it’s not simply because they’re both Argentine playmakers. Now, it’s because the pair of them are – by nearly any measure – two of the greatest and most memorable players to ever wear a Columbus uniform.
By now, Higuain has passed Schelotto in almost every statistical category. He’s played far more games, scored 15 more goals and has added eight more assists. But he doesn’t have an MLS MVP trophy, and he’s never won an MLS Cup or a Supporters’ Shield.
Higuain, affectionately known by most around Crew SC as Pipa, might not be in the MVP race this season, but his Columbus squad is riding a wave of momentum and emotion into the Eastern Conference Championship series against Toronto FC. And it’s Pipa’s favorite time of year.
“When big games are coming, I think players who love this game like to play these types of games,” he said in September.
Higuain is just three wins away from bringing a title to Columbus for the first time since he joined the club, an accomplishment that would put him in serious contention with Schelotto for a place on the Mt. Rushmore of Columbus soccer.
Would a title for Higuain put him into the conversation for best Columbus player ever? Fans certainly don’t have a consensus.
Some, like Dakota Stewart, acknowledge the commitment and dedication Higuain has shown, and appreciate the fact that he’s been in Columbus longer.
“I think Federico is one of the best players to wear a Crew jersey,” Stewart said. “He has given all he can and he’s proven he is loyal to the club. He has outstanding goal and assist records. The only thing he’s missing to propel him to the top is winning a title.”
Others realize that the stats are there to back up Higuain’s status, but simply can’t get over the intangible feeling that Schelotto brought to the team when he was acquired.
“No one could ever be or accomplish what Guillermo did for Columbus,” Kristina Balevska said. “Higuain could win the Cup, but his legacy will never match [Schelotto].”
Higuain has never been interested in comparisons, and doesn’t even like comparing himself to current players, let alone a man he looked up to.
“I’m happy to be here,” he said. “I don’t like to compare people. Guillermo and Federico – I don’t like to talk much about comparing Guillermo and myself.”
He said he doesn’t have soccer heroes, but did acknowledge that he’s “proud also about what [Schelotto] did for this team and what I’m doing for this team” as fellow Argentines. He does, however, appreciate being in the same conversation as a man who meant so much for Argentina and Columbus.
“For us, he was one of the most important players in the last 10 or 20 years in Argentina,” Higuain said of Schelotto. “That was what he represented.”
Ultimately, Higuain will leave talks of his legacy and his Columbus stature to everyone else. He’s willing to acknowledge that, at 33, his career is winding down, but said he never thinks about how he’ll be remembered. He’ll be with Columbus at least through 2018, as he signed a one-year extension with the club in October.
“I don’t care,” he said. “For some people, maybe I’m a good player. For some people, maybe I’m not a good player. I hope people remember me as a good guy.”