The Columbus Crew announced on Friday that the team has signed Argentine forward Federico Higuaín to a Designated Player contract. Higuain becomes the third player in team history to be given that designation, following in the footsteps of Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Andres Mendoza.
Higuaín, 27 years old, joins the team from Colon in Argentina's first division. He appeared 62 times for the club over the past two seasons, scoring ten goals in that span. Previous to Colon he has played for seven different clubs, including high-profile teams such as River Plate (Argentina), Besiktas (Turkey) and Club America (Mexico).
Columbus awaits the arrival of Higuaín with an offense that has underwhelmed so far in 2012. After parting ways with leading scorer - and Designated Player - Andres Mendoza in the off season, the team has struggled to score this season. Midfielder Eddie Gaven leads the team with four goals in 18 games.
Olman Vargas, who was expected to contribute significantly to the team after transferring from Saprissa, has failed to make much of an impact with one goal in only seven starts. Emilio Renteria, who entered the season with 13 goals in Columbus over three seasons, has also struggled.
Technical Director Brian Bliss and coach Robert Warzycha recently signed Costa Rican Jairo Arrieta, who debuted for the team on July 14th against Kansas City. He provided the assist on Chris Birchall's game-winning goal against DC United last weekend.
Higuaín's arrival, after protracted negotiations appeared to break down earlier in the season, adds one more player to the competition for time. There are currently eight healthy forwards on the roster, which has forced players like Ethan Finlay, Justin Meram and even Emilio Renteria to be used in a wide midfield position.
Crew fans might be forgiven some trepidation, however, after looking more closely at Higuaín's career path. His only previous attempt at playing outside of Argentina ended quietly, and soon. After signing with Turkish power Besiktas in 2007, he appeared in only nine games - with no goals. He was then loaned to Club America in the Mexican first division, where he fared little better - 13 games played with one goal scored.
In this sense Higuaín's experiences appear to resemble those of another forward who made minimal impact while with the Crew: Sergio Herrera. Signed before the 2010 season, Herrera arrived in Columbus having scored prolifically on home soil but also with minimal success away from his native Colombia (five goals in four years in Saudi Arabia and Brazil). His stint in Columbus was memorable only because he set a new record low for minutes played, with one.
Previous experience is not necessarily a reliable indicator for success in Major League Soccer, however. Brazilian World Cup winner Denilson was generally considered a disappointment for FC Dallas in 2007, while more recently Nery Castillo played only eight games for the Chicago Fire in 2010.
The track record for Columbus with Designated Players is much better. The team's first experience with the so-called Beckham Rule was to promote Guillermo Barros Schelotto to that status in 2009, the year after the Argentine won the MVP award for the season as well as for his three-assist performance in MLS Cup 2008. Schelotto led the team in scoring in 2009, scoring nine times with another eight assists. The team renegotiated his contract for the 2010 season, removing him from the ranks of salary-exempt players.
Columbus followed a similar path with their second player. Peruvian forward Andres Mendoza joined the team in 2010, and gained Designated Player status in 2011. He led the team in scoring with 13 goals in 29 appearances - but may be most remembered for preventing Jeff Cunningham from taking a penalty kick that would have broken the league's all-time scoring record in Crew Stadium.