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As Federico Higuain goes, so go the Columbus Crew

Toronto FC v Columbus Crew

COLUMBUS, OH - AUGUST 22: Federico Higuain #33 of the Columbus Crew chases down a loose ball in the first half against Toronto FC on August 22, 2012 at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Higuain had a goal and an assist in the Crew’s 2-1 win over Toronto FC. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

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Let’s not overthink the recent Columbus Crew struggles. It’s as plain as the midfield stripe:

Federico Higuain produced some August magic, and the Crew suddenly looked like a team that everyone preferred to avoid in the coming playoffs. He was so dynamic, so effective as a creator, tempo-setter and free kick striker, a few informed sources were even beginning to whisper about league MVP chances.

But Higuain got hurt and simply has not relocated that bottle of secret sauce that he was spreading so liberally across MLS in his first few weeks here. And with that, the Crew was in trouble again.

Here’s the essential breakdown:

Crew chart

So, what’s the issue?

The injury couldn’t have helped, short-lived though it was. Plus, his influence was so fierce that teams began to scheme around him. Previously, playing Columbus was all about breaking down the Crew’s well-organized banks of defending. Now, opponents had to pay greater attention to Columbus on the ball, too.

The result looked like what we saw the other day in the loss to Chicago, with Higuain drifting further into midfield to collect passes and pull the offensive strings.

It also pulled him further away from Jairo Arrieta, the lesser heralded summer signing, but one that was also key to the Crew summer offensive revival.

Post-season opportunity remains available around Crew Stadium thanks to a favorable schedule. Columbus has two manageable matches at home (against Toronto and Philadelphia), one real bugger at home (Eastern leading Sporting Kansas City) and a super-massive match on the road. That one is against D.C. United on Oct. 20, with a playoff berth quite possibly at stake in that one.

The opposition has clearly adjusted to Higuain; now comes the adjustment to the adjustment. We’ll see if Columbus has it in them.