This past January, MLS debutants Orlando City Soccer Club announced that they signed Cristian Higuita, a 20 year-old defensive midfielder from Colombia who featured for the successful club Deportivo Cali during his youth. Higuita would move to Orlando to take the next step in his career, and begin to elevate his game to a new level. So far, the young midfielder has done precisely that.
During this season, Higuita has personally adopted the motto of the Orlando City organization; Defy Expectations. He is well-recognized by many soccer pundits because of his fiery play and tenacity on the pitch. His quick thinking and concerted behavior has made him a regular for the Lions. However, when the Lions signed Higuita, Coach Adrian Heath didn’t necessarily expect this level on contribution so soon. “I honestly thought this year was going to be up and down for him,” admitted Heath. “He has pretty much been at the forefront and very consistent. We believe that in the next few years that he will develop into a Colombian International.”
Higuita moved to the City Beautiful at the ripe age of 21. Luckily, he plays for a coach who understands the pressures and difficulty of making such a massive cultural change. “When I look back at me leaving England to go to Spain, it was a life changing decision,” said Heath, who moved from Everton to Espanyol in 1988. “For a kid at 21 years old to do it, and respond the way he has, it is fantastic. We have big hopes for Cristian.’’
According to Higuita, Heath’s assessment of transitioning from one country to another is spot on. “It was something that was very complicated and very tough,” he said looking back. “I had to leave many things in Colombia; my mother, my father, my brother, and the people I was with and come here to a different language, where I didn’t know anything.”
Fortunately for Higuita, he received an opportunity to move here alongside Orlando City midfielder and compatriot Carlos Rivas. Like Higuita, Rivas featured for Deportivo Cali in Colombia, and signed with Orlando City at the same time. “Carlos is like my younger brother. I have a lot of confidence and trust in Carlos and coming here with him made it all easier, since we went everywhere together,” admitted Higuita. “I think coming here by myself would have been more difficult. We help each other, we advise each other…I hope that we continue growing, continue improving and that daily we can commit more to soccer.”
Even though Higuita has been an enormous success so far this season, adjusting to MLS hasn’t always been easy for the young Colombian sensation. “MLS is a difficult soccer league where you have to run a lot; here there are no pauses. Soccer here is very tactical, very physical,” said Higuita. He then looked back at his first few days in the club. “The first training sessions here we noted because they were very fast-paced sessions where you needed to have a lot of power and intelligence to pass the ball with very strong and powerful players. But we have adapted, and we have done a good job. I have learned a lot and I want to continue to get better.”
One teammate who Higuita has thoroughly impressed is former Stoke City player and current Orlando City midfielder Lewis Neal. “He is a good young talented player,” said Neal. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a call to the national team soon. He is developing really nicely. He has come in and played a lot of games this year and been more or less a regular throughout most of the season. Hopefully that continues and his development continues.”
For now, Cristian Higuita is determined to be successful with Orlando. “First, I am focused in Orlando, on doing a good job here, on leaving a mark,” assured Higuita. However, the defensive midfielder does have further ambitions while playing in Orlando. “My goal is to get to the Colombian National Team, and to qualify for the Olympic Games.”
If Higuita continues on the upwards track, he could be realizing many of his dreams in the near future. Having bright and young players like Higuita also make the future look very bright for Orlando City.