Lucas Zelarayan showing why Columbus Crew have "world-class" playmaker

Columbus Crew playmaker Lucas Zelarayan is arguably the most in-form attacker in MLS, with his high-end ability readily apparent in Saturday’s 2-1 home win over Toronto FC.

The Argentine-Armenian No. 10 notched one goal and one assist to lead the come-from-behind result, giving him four goals and two assists through three matches of Columbus’ 2022 campaign.

His 56th-minute equalizer at Field skimmed along the grass, his 14th goal from outside the penalty area since his 2020 arrival from Liga MX’s Tigres UANL – more than double the amount as any other MLS player.

“He's one of the best players in the league; he's a special player,” Crew head coach Caleb Porter said postgame. “The technique on that first goal, that is high level. I mean, the technique for him to pop that ball basically at the pace and precision that he struck that ball with, that's world-class.”

Zelarayan, stretching back to the Crew’s 2021 season, has now scored in six straight matches. He's also placed on the last two MLS Team of Weeks presented by Audi.

But the club-record signing has brought more than final-third wizardry, being a complete Designated Player whose leadership lifts the entire group.

“The work rate that he had the entire game, tracking back, I think it really just says a lot about him,” Porter said of the 29-year-old. “You see very few players that have the attacking gifts he has and work as hard as he does. We need him to because our team's a team that's going be a team, and we have to do it through our defending with 11 guys and attacking with 11 guys.”

With Zelarayan pacing the way, Columbus’ only blemish so far is a 3-3 draw at the San Jose Earthquakes where two late Francisco Calvo headers were their downfall. But Porter likes what he sees from the 2020 MLS Cup and 2021 Campeones Cup champions, who are recovering from a postseason-less year.

They’ll return to action next Sunday when traveling to the New York Red Bulls (2 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada).

“I'm very pleased with the three games when you look at the bottom line of seven points,” Porter remarked. “The attacking, what is it? Nine goals in three games? No open-play goals defensively. Disappointed in the set-piece defending. We'll go back to the training ground and continue to work on that because if you take out the set-piece defending, we've got nine points and probably three clean sheets.”