Gonzalo Higuain scored 16 goals in the regular season for Miami. (Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports)
New York City FC expects to have its hands full with Gonzalo Higuain in its MLS Cup Playoff game on Monday, and for good reason.
The long-time Argentine international last week announced that he would retire after this season, and there is little doubt the 34-year-old forward would like to go out with a bang.
The defending MLS Cup champions host Inter Miami CF at Citi Field on Monday at 7 p.m.
Higuain showed that he still had the magical touch, scoring 16 goals and adding three assists in 20 starts over 28 matches this season.
While he hasn’t solve NYCFC this season, interim head coach Nick Cushing realized Higuain is one lethal player in the penalty area.
“He’s always been really dangerous in the box,” he said in a Zoom media call on Saturday. “He’s always been a guy that if you give him two, three chances he’s going to score two three goals. Once you start to give him chances and game after game, he starts to go on a run that he becomes really, really dangerous. And he’s definitely in that run.”
The 6-1, 196-lb. Higuain has enjoyed a remarkable 17 1/2-year career as he competed in the top divisions of Italy, Spain and England for several of the world’s best teams. He registered more than 300 goals and more than 100 assists across in more than 700 matches.
“The team has been really, really well coached,” Cushing said. “The team is in a place where [it is] creating him a lot of chances.”
Cushing added that Inter Miami head coach Phil Neville “has done a really good job of getting that team in proper place where they create a lot of chances for a guy like Higuain, who is a killer in the box.”
So, what is the best way to stop someone as talented and crafty as Higuain?
“We have to make the game where they don’t get three four chances,” Cushing said. “We’ve done that okay in the away game. … If we can get the game in a place where we’ve had games in the past three, four weeks, gives us the best chance to win again.”
In the first encounter between the clubs at Yankee Stadium on July 23, NYCFC blanked Higuain and Miami, 2-0. Higuain was limited to an assist in a 3-1 Miami home win over City on Aug. 13
Still, NYCFC captain and goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who doesn’t want to take the ball out of the back of the net on a shot by Higuain, praised the Argentine legend.
“He’s a fantastic player. He’s had an unbelievable career,” he said. “He’s definitely played at the highest levels and had a lot of success. A great guy as well. So. hoping for the best for him, you know, after his career. … But it’s important now we have a game to focus on and ultimately we know that he’s going to come prepared to do everything.”