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Federico Higuain on his move to coaching, learning from Gregg Berhalter, and 'defending your dream'

While some pro players might opt for a vacation after retiring from the game, Federico Higuain made plans that have kept him on the field.

It was a balmy Saturday night in late October last year and Higuain, playing with his brother Gonzalo, captained Inter Miami at DRV PNK Stadium against NYCFC for the last game of his career. Two days later, he was back in Fort Lauderdale as an assistant coach to fellow Argentine and former Real Salt Lake star Javier Morales with Inter Miami's U-17 academy team. Six months later, the team made a semifinal appearance at the Generation adidas Cup. Inter Miami topped its group and defeated Atlanta United in the round of 16 and the Columbus Crew in the quarterfinals before losing 1-0 to eventual champion Seattle. Now Higuain, 37, serves as assistant coach to Darren Powell with Inter Miami II, which competes in MLS Next Pro.

SOCCER AMERICA: Did you always know you wanted to be a coach?

FEDERICO HIGUAIN: It was one of my objectives, but I am in a learning process. I'm learning next to Darren Powell, and next to all the coaches in the academy. I'm trying to help players in their dream to become MLS players.

SA: Some of the hardest things you've had to learn as a coach?

FEDERICO HIGUAIN: It's a different job. As a player, you just need to play your game — of course, you need to follow an idea, follow a tactical idea of the coach. As a coach, you have to try to deliver a message that's easy to understand and have it executed on the field.

It's more about the message you deliver to the players. As simple as possible — the more simple the message is about how to play futbol, the easier it is for players to understand.

SA: You were known for your vision, intelligent runs, seeing the game faster than other attackers and defenders alike. How is that something you can coach into younger players?

FEDERICO HIGUAIN: It's a challenge, of course. When you play the game you decide what to do. As a coach, you need to understand players on and off the field. You need to be smart enough to understand their capacity to play the game. And try to get the best out of their abilities that you see on the field. It's a challenge that I like, and hopefully I can keep learning, keep helping players — that's my objective. It's the same way where as a player I would do my best.

Notable among Miami’s U-17 alum is Noah Allen (right), who on March 11, 2022 signed a Homegrown contract with Inter Miami through the 2024 MLS season. Allen is currently with the U.S. U-20 national team at the Concacaf U-20 Championship.


SA: Compare the practice environment at River Plate with the environment of Inter Miami. What are some big differences in terms of how coaches understand player development?

FEDERICO HIGUAIN: No, no. You can't compare a club like Inter vs. a club with more than a hundred years of history. It's a different equation.

The academy at Inter Miami has been really good. No question — you can go and see the U-17s, the younger teams — there are a lot of good coaches in the academy and a lot of talent with the young kids. We have to keep working — it's a new club — only two or three years — we have to respect the cycles of the players, the ages of the players. For sure, the future of this club is going to be good.

SA: What about the project at Inter Miami convinced you to join them? How do you like to be reunited with your brother, Gonzalo?

FEDERICO HIGUAIN: The club is amazing. We have a beautiful stadium, we have everything we need to develop players. It's interesting to be a part of a club like this. Of course, we have to produce good players and prepare them for MLS.

It's good to be with Gonzalo. We don't see each other so much. When you play, it's about two or three hours of working on the field, then it's just about taking care of yourself, your body, nutrition, sleeping and resting. When you coach, it's six, seven, eight hours. Some in the office and then two hours on the field. It's a different story.

Federico Higuain came to MLS in 2012, when he joined the Columbus Crew from Club Atletico Colon, his fifth club in his native Argentina, where he came out of River Plate's youth academy. He earned MLS Newcomer of the Year honors in his first season. He scored 59 goals and notched 68 assists for the Crew. He joined his younger brother Gonzalo Higuain, the striker who played in three World Cups for Argentina, at Inter Miami in 2020-21.


SA: Compare the practice environment at River Plate with the environment of Inter Miami. What are some big differences in terms of how coaches understand player development?

FEDERICO HIGUAIN: No, no. You can't compare a club like Inter vs. a club with hundreds of years. It's a different equation.

The academy at Inter Miami has been really good. No question — you can go and see the U-17s, the younger teams — there are a lot of good coaches in the academy and a lot of talent with the young kids. We have to keep working — it's a new club — only two or three years — we have to respect the cycles of the players, the ages of the players. For sure, the future of this club is going to be good.

SA: What about the project at Inter Miami convinced you to join them? How do you like to be reunited with your brother, Gonzalo?

FEDERICO HIGUAIN: The club is amazing. We have a beautiful stadium, we have everything we need to develop players. It's interesting to be a part of a club like this. Of course, we have to produce good players and prepare them for MLS.

It's good to be with Gonzalo. We don't see each other so much. When you play, it's about two or three hours of working on the field, then it's just about taking care of yourself, your body, nutrition, sleeping and resting. When you coach, it's six, seven, eight hours. Some in the office and then two hours on the field. It's a different story.

SA: You're busier now as a coach then as a player?

FEDERICO HIGUAIN: Yes, I am.

SA: Did you expect that?

FEDERICO HIGUAIN: It's OK, I like it. So it's no problem.

SA: You’ve been playing under coaches in the pro environment for a while. Who are some coaches who you’ve taken inspiration from when you yourself are on the touchline?

FEDERICO HIGUAIN: There are a few, but probably the coach I felt the most comfortable with was Gregg Berhalter [in Columbus, 2014–2018]. I'm not going to say I'm like him, because I'm not. But I do feel really good about the times we worked together.

SA: What about working with him made that experience so good for you?

FEDERICO HIGUAIN: He gave me a calm to play the game. He also looked at me as a guy who could produce futbol for his team. He gave me that confidence that I believe every player needs.

Players need confidence to play the game. They need to understand that it doesn't matter if you miss a pass — there is always a new opportunity. More importantly, when you play the game you have to defend your dream. The dream of being a professional player, you know?

In order to do that, you have to understand that it doesn't matter if you score or miss a goal, have a good game or a bad game. If you miss a pass or not — it's all about the next play. Understanding that every ball matters and every game matters. In futbol, there is always a new opportunity or a new chance.

SA: What are some qualities in Gregg Berhalter's U.S. national team that you saw in your own team at the Columbus Crew?

FEDERICO HIGUAIN: It's hard to compare because they are different environments. They train for two weeks and then have some games. When you work for a club, you can work out different ideas, different moments of the game. I can tell you I see similarities in the way they play the game — with confidence, always trying to attack the opponent, to play with the right mentality, respecting futbol and trying to be offensive.

When I was at the Crew, that was something he was always trying to get us to understand. Every game he wanted us to be dominant on the field and to understand that if the opponent is better than us, it's because they did a better job.


* * * * * * * * * *
Arlo Moore-Bloom's From the pros to youth coaching series:
Shalrie Joseph (New England Revolution)
Benny Feilhaber (Sporting KC)
Paul Holocher (Houston Dynamo)
Brian Johnson (Tampa Bay United)
Mike Kraus (RSL-Arizona)
Jeremy Hall (Toronto FC)
Tyson Wahl (Austin FC)
* * * * * * * * * *

SA: Obviously the transition from pro to coach is a difficult one. Some players have talked about an identity crisis and finding it hard to move on from performing in front of thousands of people week in and week out. How have you experienced your transition from player to coach?

FEDERICO HIGUAIN: I mean, it's not easy, you know? When you play this game for so long ... a futbol career doesn't start when you play your first game. You start playing the game when you're 10 years old. You're dreaming, you're dreaming, you're dreaming until you make it real. And then you have to defend your dream. Then you have to keep dreaming to play as much as you can. And then one day, it's gone. Of course, it's not easy. But you have to pass through it.

That's why family and friends are so important. In my case, I have the opportunity with this club to keep working in futbol. I finished my career against NYCFC at home, and the next Monday I was working with the U-17s next to Javi Morales. I don't know, I didn't have time to think about it. But, of course, it's not easy. The player will always miss the game. It's hard to walk away from this game without missing it.

SA: Do you have any desire to be an MLS coach one day?

FEDERICO HIGUAIN: [Laughs]. I don't know. I go day by day. Now I know it's a process of learning. I want to learn as much as I can and see where it goes. You never know.

Photos: Inter Miami & Concacaf.com

1 comment about "Federico Higuain on his move to coaching, learning from Gregg Berhalter, and 'defending your dream'".
  1. humble 1, July 6, 2022 at 12:59 p.m.

    Thank you.  Amazing to have a coach with his background and experience working with young players in the USA.  I toured River Plate in June, he is right to say, you cannot compare, and I think he means in the context of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale and Inter.  You cannot.  Period.  There are more than 50 Inters in Buenos Aires to give an idea and River and Boca are at the top of the heap.  To understand you have to go and see.  Great for the young players that get to work with Higuain, a true professional, with a rich background and experience.  

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