Though Gonzalo Higuaín has yet to play for Inter Miami, the Union still know plenty about him. The entire soccer world does, thanks to his prolific goal scoring for some of the world’s biggest teams.
In 15 years as a pro, he has hit the net 306 times in 632 combined games for Argentina’s River Plate, Spain’s Real Madrid, England’s Chelsea, and Italy’s AC Milan, Napoli, and Juventus. The last of those was the 32-year-old’s most recent stop, and last season he had 11 goals in 44 games across all competitions.
On top of that, he has 31 goals in 75 games for Argentina’s national team, with a batch of epic misses that are just as famous.
If you’ve watched the UEFA Champions League or the World Cup, you’ve seen him plenty. And you know why everyone in Major League Soccer is eagerly awaiting his Miami debut — which could come Sunday night at Subaru Park (7:30 p.m., PHL17). Higuaín’s work visa paperwork was settled Saturday, clearing the way for him to take the field against the Union.
And the game is scheduled to go on despite FC Cincinnati’s Nick Hagglund announcing Saturday afternoon that he tested positive for COVID-19 after playing against the Union on Wednesday.
Hagglund said he was tested as usual Thursday morning, started experiencing symptoms on Thursday night, and got the positive test result Friday morning. His wife tested negative.
“Please let our circumstance be a reminder that this virus is real and still present,” Hagglund wrote on Twitter. “Please continue to take steps to mitigate the risk to yourself and your community.”
A team statement said, “All other players and members of the club have returned negative test results and do not have symptoms.”
Hagglund’s words didn’t stop his team from traveling to Saturday’s road game against New York City FC. That raised eyebrows around the league, especially in Philadelphia and New York. City manager Ronny Deila said he was “of course worrying” about the situation, and Cincinnati goalkeeper Spencer Richey said his team was, too.
“I understand that we’re following the protocols, and the game was played tonight. … But there’s so much gray area with this virus, with the incubation period, and with the turnaround for test results being 24 hours, which isn’t that quick, frankly," Richey said. “Certainly it’s something that is on guys' minds. Not just ours, I’m sure the Philly guys from Wednesday were a bit spooked out when they heard that we had a player that tested positive.”
To make matters worse, Richey’s team was routed, 4-0, with the first goal coming in just 30 seconds.
Union players and staff were tested Saturday; results are expected by Sunday morning. Though Richey’s hunch is probably right, manager Jim Curtin has little choice but to plan for Sunday’s game to happen. And he said Friday that he was planning for Higuaín to play.
“We’ve talked with our players and shown some older clips of his movement in the box, how he really comes to life," Curtin said. "He’s not a striker that needs two looks.”
Higuaín should help elevate Miami’s 3-8-2 record (11 points), and if he doesn’t this year, he surely will next year. But even without him, manager Diego Alonso’s team has plenty of talent. Mexican playmaker Rodolfo Pizarro pulls the strings in midfield, and French World Cup-winner Blaise Matuidi, who joined from Juventus a few weeks before Higuaín did, is the defensive anchor.
“In our league, there’s no magic wand, and things don’t just click instantly. But you can see what they do on the field. … You can tell they’re building something special,” Curtin said.
You can be sure that Union midfielder Anthony Fontana, a lifelong Juventus fan, will relish running into Matuidi on home turf. Fontana might even start in place of the suspended Alejandro Bedoya.
Pizarro is a real wild card, with free reign to create from all over the field. Union fans saw an example of that during the MLS summer tournament, when the Mexican national team veteran scored a lovely goal in the Union’s 2-1 win. He should look even better with Matuidi backstopping him.
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Curtin paid Pizarro a high compliment, comparing him to former Mexican star playmaker Cuautehmoc Blanco.
“He has a way of finding space and getting open while your team still has the ball,” said Curtin, who played with Blanco on the Chicago Fire in the early 2000s. “He’s a key player, a top player, and one that comes to life in the transition moments. He might pop up on the right, on the left, centrally. José [Andrés Martínez] will have a job to do, certainly, to know where he is at all times.”