Orlando City midfielder Cristian Higuita confirmed on Tuesday he’s leaving Major League Soccer to play abroad.
The longtime Orlando City player said the Lions aren’t going to renew his contract and he began exploring his options to play elsewhere.
“I didn’t expect this moment to come too soon,” Higuita told Pro Soccer USA in an exclusive interview Tuesday night. “I was looking forward to being at that club another three or four years – even if they offered me long-term contract, I’ll sign and stay here. Honestly, I’m left sad with the way everything unfolded. … Makes you feel like there isn’t much importance in regards towards a player who spent five years with the team, giving his all.”
The 24-year-old midfielder said he had not spoken much with the club about staying in Orlando.
“The last chat I had with them a month ago, they told me they’ll communicate with me regarding whether I’ll stay or wait until they chose a new head coach,” he said. “I haven’t heard from them yet. [Orlando City] sent out a release on who’s staying, and for a player to see that, that makes you feel sad because the right thing to do was telling me, ‘No, Cristian, you aren’t going to be here anymore, thank you.’ But that hasn’t happened.”
Orlando City supporters biding farewell to longtime player Cristian Higuita this evening in downtown Orlando. pic.twitter.com/Ommn3tsEuF
— Mike Gramajo (@byMikeGramajo) November 26, 2019
Higuita, 24, is the last remaining player from the inaugural 2015 Orlando City MLS team. He had 103 appearances in league play with the Lions.
The Colombian midfielder admitted he doesn’t want to continue playing in MLS because he doesn’t want to compete against Orlando City. He said he prefers to go play in another country, most specifically Colombia or Mexico, where he can revitalize his career.
“I’ve had conversations [América de Cali], we have a verbal agreement, but nothing is signed and I’m just waiting on other offers to see what’s best for me and my family,” Higuita said.
During his time with the Lions, Higuita played under three head coaches: Adrian Heath, Jason Kreis and, most recently, James O’Connor.
All three were fired, with O’Connor let go at the end of the 2019 season.
Higuita said the coaching changes didn’t really affect him, but the turnover in players each season had an impact on the pitch.
He recalled joining the team at IMG Academy in Bradenton for February preseason training. He walked into the dining hall and suddenly stopped. He recognized teammates Dom Dwyer, Carlos Ascues and Sacha Kljestan, but he admitted he didn’t know the names of the new players.
“Each year, you would see eight to 10 players leaving and arriving, and from a sporting part, that affects the team,” he said. “For me, that was starting all over, getting to know the players, building chemistry, what their technical abilities were, how they thought, it was tough.”
Higuita saw his playing time dwindle massively this year. He only made nine MLS appearances and was plagued with injuries, most recently sustaining an adductor injury that forced him to miss the final games of the year.
Higuita said the players were informed about O’Connor’s firing shortly after the team’s 5-2 season finale loss to the Chicago Fire on Oct. 6. But he admitted several players thought O’Connor was going to be sacked after Orlando’s 2-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sept. 21.
The Lions closed out the season on an eight-game winless run.
With a new coach incoming for Orlando City for next season, Higuita hopes whoever is up next is given enough time to help secure the Lions’ first playoff berth.
“He’s going to need time,” Higuita said of Orlando City’s next coach. “This is a process. If he arrives, I wish him and the club all the best on their quest for making the playoffs.”
Whether Higuita ends up playing in Colombia or Mexico in 2020, Higuita said his dream is to come back one day and close his career with Orlando City.
“I want to return one day,” he said. “My dream, as I’ve told my wife, is in a couple of years once I know that time has come, I’d like to retire here with this team and hopefully that opportunity will come.”
Pro Soccer USA reporter Julia Poe contributed to this report.