For the first time this season, Cristian Higuita is seeing regular playing time for Orlando City.
The 25-year-old Colombian midfielder started his second game of the season during Sunday’s 5-1 victory over FC Cincinnati — a game that saw the Orlando veteran make a significant impact despite playing 78 minutes.
But for Higuita, the only remaining player of the 2015 inaugural MLS team, he had to wait his turn to get to this point of the season and that required, most importantly, patience.
“For me, it’s satisfying knowing I’m starting games,” Higuita told the Orlando Soccer Journal following Sunday’s game. “Even when I didn’t play, I put my best effort to make sure the team wins. Now it’s my turn to play these games, and I’m just taking advantage of them.”
Higuita so far has appeared in three games for the Lions this season, two of which he’s been named to the starting lineup most recently against Cincinnati and Atlanta United on May 12 — where he also played 78 minutes.
A lot has changed, however, since the start of the year for Higuita.
He was left unprotected in the offseason during FC Cincinnati’s expansion draft despite having his option picked up for this season.
Higuita told reporters in February that coach James O’Connor wasn’t going to count on him that much this season, but most recently told Pro Soccer USA that there’s been open communication between him and O’Connor.
That was confirmed again by Higuita after the Cincinnati win on Sunday.
“When I spoke with him, he told me ‘Cristian if you work hard, you will be in the team’ and I think I’ve worked well and he’s given me the trust and the opportunity and for me, that’s really important,” Higuita told the OSJ.
O’Connor praised Higuita following Sunday’s game, saying he’s earned his spot in the lineup and now it’s up to him to hold it down.
“Listen, Cristian is a very talented player,” O’Connor told reporters. “We’ve had to work on a few things first to try to make sure there’s a good understanding of what the requirement is. But since he’s come into the team, he’s been excellent. I think we look at his quality of play in both games, he’s been very, very good.
“The challenge for Cristian is he needs to maintain that, and I think that’s the big thing that we want to drive is that you earn your place in the team. And once you get in the team, it’s down to you to stay in the team and that’s what we’re trying to drive here. Whether it’s Cristian or whoever it is, once you get in the team, stay in the team and your performance level dictates that.”
When Higuita was asked about his future, he held Orlando in high regards with a long desire of making the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time in club history.
“Honestly, Orlando is part of my family,” said Higuita. “It’s my fifth season here, I’ve made friends and have gotten used to living here, to me that’s great to experience that, but the most important thing that I desire is for the team to make the playoffs and then we’ll see what happens.”
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