It’s been fifteen long years since Colombia lifted the Copa América to the roar of their home crowd at El Campín. The streets of Bogotá filled with yellow, blue, and red as football fans rejoiced in the win, something Orlando City SC midfielder Cristian Higuita remembers quite well.
“It was very emotional,” Higuita recalled, “something that people will always remember.”
Higuita, once just a fan, now has accomplished something remarkable. He was called up to the 40-man roster for the Colombian National Football Team in anticipation of Copa América Centenario, the special centennial edition of Copa América. He is the only MLS player on the roster, alongside the likes of James Rodríguez of Real Madrid, Juan Cuadrado of Juventus, and Davis Ospina of Arsenal.
For the 22 year-old from Cali, Colombia, the call up he received was a “surprise,” he says, “because this was [his] first time being named to a preliminary [40-man] roster.”
But to any MLS fan that has paid attention to Higuita, this is anything but a surprise. On the defensive side of the ball, Higuita recorded 4.3 tackles per game in 2015, the second highest rate in the league. He was also the eighth-best passer in the MLS last season, with a pass completion rate of over 87%.
The excitement in South America’s second-most populous country is hard to miss. Coming off an incredible performance in the 2014 FIFA World Cup where the squad advanced to the quarterfinals, expectations are as high as they’ve ever been.
“I think the people are motivated with this Copa America,” Higuita said, “knowing that there are big players that can push the national team.”
Higuita, based on his talent and stats, now has the chance to be one of those players.
Copa América 2016 kicks off June 3, when Colombia takes on the United States in Santa Clara, California.