The Columbus Crew are winless in eight games, but Federico Higuaín continues to be a candidate for Most Valuable Player on a struggling team. As a whole, his team couldn’t muster a victory despite being up a man for nearly an hour on Saturday, but Higuaín ensured it would at least leave Portland with a point.
He scored twice for Columbus against the Timbers, a skillful chip to tie the game after Maxi Urruti’s early tally and a penalty to take the lead right before halftime. He also assisted Ethan Finlay on the Crew’s second go-ahead goal, which they again couldn’t make stand up for three points.
The metronome of the Columbus attack, Higuaín completed 57 of his 66 attempted passes (an 86 percent success rate), including five passes that led directly to shots. Both of the shots he attempted ended up in the back of the net.
Higuaín is a goalscorer, but he is also one of the best examples of an enganche in Major League Soccer, linking midfield and attack with smart passes and intelligent runs. Again on Saturday, he was also a measure of efficiency, not attempting the number of passes Xavi or Andrés Iniesta might, but still having the biggest impact of any player on the field.
He was helped by a Timbers back line that has struggled all season long, as well as Alvas Powell’s red card in the 34th minute. Despite benefitting from being up a player, Higuaín’s performance was dominant enough and important enough to his team to merit top honors this week.
Obafemi Martins and Lee Nguyen deserve honorable mention for their efforts as well. Nguyen turned in similar pass-completion numbers (85 percent), scored a goal and added an assist as he paced the New England attack to a 5-3 win over Philadelphia. With Kelyn Rowe returning to health and Diego Fagundez finally starting to find his form, the Revs will only look better as the season progresses.
Martins also scored an impressive lob, taking the ball down at an extreme angle from goal before chipping it over Jon Busch and inside the far post. He seems to be embracing the fact that he was left off Nigeria’s World Cup squad and relishing his pivotal role in Clint Dempsey’s absence.
Higuaín, Martins and Nguyen are part of a full lineup on the Week 11 MLS Best XI:
Planet Fútbol MLS Best XI — Week 11
• Jeff Attinella (Real Salt Lake): Taking advantage of another opportunity in Nick Rimando’s absence, Attinella made an important double save on Kamani Hill in the second half on Saturday.
• Chris Tierney (New England Revolution): Tierney scored an excellent free-kick goal and added an assist in the Revs’ 5-3 win over Philadelphia.
• Nick Hagglund (Toronto FC): The rookie turned in a solid performance in Toronto’s shutout of New York.
• David Horst (Houston Dynamo): Horst capped another good performance with an important save off the goal line to defeat L.A. by the slimmest possible margin.
• Igor Julião (Sporting Kansas City): Julião had an active MLS debut, marauding down Sporting’s right flank in its midweek loss to the Union.
• Kyle Bekker (Toronto FC): The young Canadian shined in Michael Bradley’s absence from a deep midfield position against the Red Bulls.
• Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution): Nguyen turned in another smooth performance for the Revs in midfield, scoring a goal, adding an assist and completing 85 percent of his passes.
• Federico Higuaín (Columbus Crew): Involved in all three Crew goals in a draw at Portland, Higuaín was the only reason Columbus had any chance on Saturday despite playing a man up.
• Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids): Serna is a confident young player cutting in from the flank, evidenced by his guile in blowing by two defenders on the dribble and forcing Attinella into a good save low to his near post on Saturday.
• Eddie Johnson (D.C. United): It was too little, too late for his World Cup chances, but Johnson finally got off the mark for his new club on Saturday and had a couple other good chances to double his tally. • Obafemi Martins (Seattle Sounders): The Nigerian international looks set to take over as the playmaker with Dempsey out, dropping deeper and playing more of the No. 10 role on Saturday against San Jose.