The Night Pipa Tied Bobby

Records are made to me broken and we certainly celebrate their breaking. However, if we’re lucky, we get to celebrate a moment when a record is tied, where two terrific players from different eras are joined together in equal achievement. So it is Crew legends Robert Warzycha and Federico Higuain. On Saturday night, Higuain tied Warzycha’s club record of 61 assists in league play. For at least one week, Pipa and the Polish Rifle will share top billing on the assist list.

The record-tying helper was a set piece service to the head of Josh Williams. The center back flicked the header into the far side netting. It was the third goal scored by a Crew center back already in 2019, and the second such goal assisted by Higuain.

 

“Pipa put it right on my head,” Williams said. “We’re just the big dumb guys that go up there and the ball bounces off our head and we celebrate. That’s always fun.”

Pipa opted merely for “big” without “dumb.”

“When you see our central defenders, they are big guys. Big guys. Good headers. We just want to be sure to put the ball in the right spot and we know these guys will do the best to score. They’re doing a great job this season and I’m happy for them.”

And that’s that not the only thing Pipa was happy about. When asked his feelings about sharing the club’s assist record, he opened by saying, “Happy. Very happy.”

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At the start of the second half, it didn’t seem that Higuain was going to share the record for long. In the 48th minute, he rode off a challenge and slipped a clever ball to Pedro Santos that turned New England defender Brandon Bye inside out. Unfortunately, Santos lost his footing as he swung his leg to center the ball to an open Gyasi Zardes, so the pass got blocked and a potential secondary assist didn’t come to be. Not that it stopped teammates from marveling.

“There was one he played to Pedro in the second half,” said captain Wil Trapp, “where he got fouled and the guy was turning this way and the ball went that way…it was just one of his amazing plays. He does it week in and week out, so you’re not surprised.”

In the 49th minute, Higuain sent another set piece to a teammate’s noggin. This time it was Jonathan Mensah, who put his header on frame, only to see it cleared off the goal line by Revs defender Scott Caldwell. Higuain was inches away from the record.

In the 53rd minute, Higuain sprung Santos with a 40-yard pass on the ground that split multiple defensive lines. The ensuing Santos cross to Zardes was broken up in the goal mouth, so another secondary assist opportunity went by the wayside.

That pass made for three dazzling dishes in the span of five minutes that could have led to goals.

“I thought he was special tonight,” said Crew coach Caleb Porter. “He had his tail up and every time he got the ball, I thought ‘It’s going to be a goal. He’s going to create something.’ There were a couple passes today that were world-class. The one he played in behind to Pedro was one of the best final balls I have ever seen. That’s a world-class ball.”

Williams seemed simultaneously awed and unfazed by Higuain’s flurry of defensive dissection.

“I’ve got to see him for like seven years now, so to me, it’s not anything crazy,” he said. “From when he first got here, maybe the pace has a changed a little, but the mind has gotten better. With some of those passes, he’s gotten sharper to me. I don’t know how because I thought he was unbelievably sharp before, but I get to see it every day, so it’s no surprise. He’s an exceptional talent who works hard and deserves everything he gets.”

Higuain credited the other guys in the locker room and insisted that he is not doing anything special.

“It’s always about my teammates,” he said. “I don’t understand this game in a different way. This is eleven guys against eleven guys.”

The assertion that Higuain doesn’t see the game in a different way is in direct contradiction to how Williams feels watching it with a different set of non-Pipa peepers.

“Some of the stuff he does, man, I don’t even know how he sees it. Maybe he just guesses,” Williams said with a laugh. “I mean, is he just guessing? He can’t possibly be that good. But we see it every day in training. He’s got eyes in the back of his head.”

Williams recalled a time when he probed Pipa’s mind to understand the playmaker’s understanding of the game. Williams wanted to know how Higuain picked out passes. What was he looking for? How did he know when and where to play some of those balls?

“He said he learned early on to learn where all 11 players are on the field,” Williams said. “I was like, ‘Excuse me? That’s not possible.’ I’m worried about two guys max, but he’s got 11 on his mind. I don’t know, man. He’s just a special talent. He’s going to get the record eventually and I’m happy to be part of it.”

Williams is happy to be a part of it, and for more than just assist number 61.

“He owes about six of those assists to me,” he said.

In fact, Higuain owes precisely six of those assists to goals scored by Williams.

Although we all know who truly owes who.

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With the exception of an injury-troubled 2016 campaign, Higuain’s production has been consistently reliable over the course of eight seasons and three head coaches. After the game, Higuain credit his first coach (Warzycha), his second coach (Gregg Berhalter), and his current coach (Porter) for giving him a chance to play, for believing in what they do, and for putting he and his teammates in position to be successful.

“I know I am on a good team,” he said.

Porter definitely seems to enjoy having the Argentine pulling the strings.

“He’s got more years left to play on my team,” Porter said. “I’m not letting him go. He’s got so much quality and I just love working with him and he’s one of the best players this league has seen, in my opinion, in terms of playmakers.”

Robert Warzycha’s career assist record has been etched in the Crew’s record book for 17 years. Williams, who grew up a Crew fan, could only think of two conceivable challengers in the intervening years.

“It would have to be someone special,” he said. “Bobby, from what I remember, was exceptional. He could put a ball on a dime and was great at freekicks as well. It takes someone crazy special to pass him, so if anybody could, it would be either Guillermo (Barros Schelotto) or Pipa. Those are the only two I could really think of that could rival Bobby.”

And now Warzycha’s record is poised to fall, broken by a player who Warzycha first wrote into the Crew’s lineup in 2012. It seems inevitable. In time, Federico Higuain will be the Columbus Crew’s all-time assist leader. And the time may be coming soon.

“Next game,” Williams said. “He creates chances every game, so I would never say more than one game for him. He’s too good.”

 

RELATED POST: Dueling 61s: A Look at Warzycha and Higuain

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