Javier Morales, our chief playmaker, and Federico Higuain, the corollary at Columbus Crew, have been two of the most influential players in the 2013 MLS campaign despite the differences between their two teams.
Where Morales is playing at high-flying Real Salt Lake, Higuain is stuck at Columbus Crew who are sitting dangerously outside of a playoff spot — with at least 7 points to make up in 10 remaining games over the fifth-placed spot in the Eastern Conference.
The two Argentines were both born in Buenos Aires, with Morales five years the elder of the Crew playmaker. They were both brought up at Argentine clubs, and both spent a brief but largely unsuccessful spell in Europe.
Stats: Similarities emerge, diverge
Higuain has scored nine goals for Crew, while Morales has scored six; all of Morales's have come from inside the box, while the Crew man has scored three of his from outside the box. He may be scoring more goals, but Higuain is also taking more than twice as many shots as Morales and with a slightly lower shot accuracy — 58 shots at 52 percent accuracy for Higuain, 28 shots at 57 percent for Morales. So if we're to evaluate productivity outside of raw goal numbers, we might say that Morales is slightly more effective, but at this point, it's largely splitting hairs.
We see a slight divergence in their play when we look at passing, but this may be as much down to a systemic difference between Real Salt Lake and Columbus Crew. Javier Morales tends to make more passes and to do so more accurately, with a passing coming every 1.72 minutes and with 83 percent accuracy. To contrast, Higuain is at about one pass every 2.2 minutes with 80 percent accuracy, which is still a fine rate, but still probably speaks to the side in which either plays.
Key passes have been particularly interesting to think about, as Morales has considerably fewer key passes — 68 to Higuain's 97 — but has an equal number of assists. Again, we should ask about productivity: Is Higuain simply playing with other players who finish fewer shots? Remember, a key pass is a pass that leads directly a shot.
We really start to see the difference emerge when we look at how often each is fouled. Higuain has suffered 17 fouls in 2013, one more than he's committed. Morales has suffered 64 fouls, 3.5 times what he's committed. Is this because of the positions each gets into? Or perhaps it has something to do with the conference and regular opponents, or perhaps it has something to do with a definite strategy opponents utilize. Whatever the case, this whole "hack-a-Javi" thing would seem to have legs, wouldn't it?
Clearly the two are similar in very important ways; it's really on the pitch that the differences are really showed at their fullest.