Lucas Zelarayan was no stranger to winning trophies while at Tigres UANL from 2016-19, playing a role in six domestic titles and one international title.
But Zelarayan cherishes his latest haul more than those at Tigres, earning MLS Cup MVP presented by Audi honors as Columbus Crew SC beat the Seattle Sounders3-0 to cap the 2020 season. The Argentine midfielder had two goals and one assist in the final, concluding his first season in Columbus with a resounding exclamation mark.
“This (championship) was the most special of my career because at Tigres I had the chance to win three championships, but in all despite playing in Liguilla and playing some of the first Finals, always in the three Vuelta Finals,” Zelarayan told ESPN. “I had to be on the bench and not go in, and in the most important one that was against Rayados I was in the stands, so they weren't as special as this one.”
Zelaryan’s desire to carve out a greater role informed his decision to join Crew SC in December 2019 via a Designated Player deal. The club-record transfer repaid that commitment, earning 2020 MLS Newcomer of the Year honors by recording six goals and four assists in 16 games (12 starts) during the abbreviated season. During the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs, Zelarayan reached another level with two goals and five assists in four games.
After winning MLS Cup, Columbus head coach Caleb Porter expressed how transformational 2020 was for Zelarayan. He went from drifting in and out of the Tigres lineup to becoming a centerpiece who, alongside fellow midfielders Darlington Nagbe and Artur, powered Crew SC en route to winning their first MLS Cup since 2008.
“We shared a great moment after the game, he said something that I'll never forget," Porter said after beating Seattle at MAPFRE Stadium. "He told me I changed his life and I told him he changed my life. I brought him here to win championships, he seemed to be looking for something new to stimulate him, reinvigorate him. These guys are people – yeah they make money, yeah they got to perform. But they're people and a lot of times I've seen this with guys, they're cut-throat, they sell their souls a little bit and they lose their way. And he came here and I think he looks like a new man, but he's an unbelievably special player."
While Zelarayan was part of Tigres’ 2018 Campeones Cup title and several Liga MX ones, he’s clearly discovered new joy in Columbus. That satisfaction should only serve him well when the 2021 campaign rolls around.