Not much has been consistent at Orlando City since the franchise moved to MLS in 2015. The team has seen a manager change, multiple Front Office changes, moving to a new stadium, and a massive overhaul of the roster this offseason. With all of that change, it’s tough to find any hint of the 2015 Orlando City team that graced the Citrus Bowl for the first time in March, 2015… until you look and find Christian Higuita.
Making 73 appearances with 59 starts since 2015, Higuita has been a constant in the Orlando City midfield, whenever he isn’t stuck on the injury or disciplinary report. However, he is often overlooked with the impact he makes on the pitch. In most cases, numbers don’t lie, and it’s tough to disagree with some of the numbers Higuita has produced during his time on the field. Although it may not show in the Goals or Assists columns, having only two goals and six assists in 3 years, it does show in some other important, deeper statistics.
First, let’s look at Orlando City’s Points per game average during MLS play, since entering the league in 2015. As most probably know, a team receives 3 points for a victory, 1 point for a draw, and nothing for a loss in league play. From 2015 to 2017, with Higuita on the pitch, OCSC averaged 1.45 points per game (PPG), with the average qualification over the 3 years for the eastern conference playoffs was at 1.38 PPG. These numbers clearly give strength to Higuita’s case for making OCSC’s starting XI in 2018.
With Higuita on the field, by this standard, OC were a playoff team… but when he comes off the pitch, OC runs into turbulence. As you can see in the charts above and below, without Higuita, Orlando City struggle. Since coming into the MLS, Higuita has played in 73 of the 102 potential league games the Club has played. In the 29 games where he has sat due to injury or suspension, OCSC has averaged only 0.82 PPG, well under the league standard, and well below the red line for the MLS Playoffs.
Furthermore, each year, without Higuita, the Lions’ PPG production has gone down, with last year, OC averaging 0.63 PPG during the 8 games he missed. It appears that results seem to come much harder whenever Higuita is absent from the pitch for Orlando City.
The next topic of discussion is the average goals scored against Orlando City per 90 Minutes while Higuita was on the Pitch. As @CleonONE tweeted earlier this offseason, Higuita has put in 3,068 minutes for Orlando City since the start of the 2016 MLS season, with Orlando City giving up 46 goals to the opposing team. In total, Christian has also missed 3,052 minutes since the start of 2016, almost the same amount of time he’s played. The difference? When he’s off the pitch, Orlando City has give up 72 goals since 2016. This is an amazing 1.35 goals allowed per 90 with him on, compared to a dismal 2.12 goals allowed per 90 without him on the field.
Lastly, we will look at overall Goal Differential with and without Higuita on the pitch for Orlando City. After some deep research, these numbers may be more eye opening than the PPG averages mentioned above. Keep in mind, this stat is broken down to the minutes he is on the field… not just the games he plays in its entirety.
With Christian Higuita on the field, since 2015, Orlando City actually have a positive goal difference, which is a huge story considering since joining MLS the overall goal differential for the club has been an embarrassing minus 34 goals over 102 games. With him off the field, however, things get quite ugly again for the Lions of Orlando. When Higuita is absent from the pitch, Orlando City have a miserable minus 42 goal differential in MLS play.
What do these numbers mean to you? Do numbers never lie? With this goal differential and points per game statistics, it’s hard to argue how vital Christian Higuita is to Orlando City’s success. Sure, his play may not be flashy, he may not score goals, but he is an enforcer in the midfield. When he is off the pitch, Orlando City has struggled mightily. After a year spent mostly out of favor with Head Coach Jason Kreis, seeing his playing time dwindle due to higher minutes for a now departed Antonio Nocerino, will we see more Higuita in 2018? Can he make his way into the newly transformed, talented and crowded midfield? With these stats, it appears Orlando City fans should be hoping the answer to that question is “Yes.”
This post was edited to reflect the statistics tweeted by @CleonONE regarding goals allowed per 90 minutes.