Cristian Higuita faced a steeper climb to the starting XI in 2018 than he ever has at Orlando City.
The Colombian midfielder began the year working to regain a fitness level up to Jason Kreis’ standards, was left off the squad for the opener and made just one appearance in the first month of the season.
But Higuita has arguably been the missing piece for City as it rolls through a five-game winning streak. He immediately changed the tone of the Philadelphia game when he came on in the 29th minute on April 13, turning what looked like a blowout waiting to happen into a comfortable win that Jason Kreis called “the most complete game of the year.”
“Cristian is an interesting one, right? He’s always got the quality and the ability to do what he did on Friday night against Philadelphia, to come in, change the game, run the show,” Will Johnson said. “He seems different to me this year. He seems more focused, more engaged, more ready, a little more mature. I think sometimes we forget how young he is.”
Higuita makes it easy to forget his age. He showed no trepidation when he first stepped on the pitch as a 21-year-old in 2015 and always brings an intensity level that’s admittedly gotten him in trouble at times. Johnson pointed to Higuita’s hard challenge early on at New York City - Higuita’s first appearance of the season - and said Higuita understands he can’t continue picking up the yellow and red cards of his youth.
“When he plays like he did on Friday night, he’s up there with the best of them - with the Ozzie Alonsos, the Michael Bradleys. He’s that good. But it’s the consistency we need to start to see.”
Two wins later and it’s hard to imagine where City would be without him.
It’s more than Higuita’s aggression that’s helped the Lions to five straight wins, though. Higuita has played alongside Yoshimar Yotún in the defensive midfield, hampering opposing attacks and offering quick distribution.
“They both operate on the same wavelength,” Jason Kreis said Wednesday of Higuita and Yotún, who scored both goals in City’s win at Colorado. “They obviously speak the same language and you can see that one player is always holding for the other. They’re both extremely aggressive and active in the defensive phases. It has given us a real nice balance and a real nice bite.”