Columbus Crew midfielder Lucas Zelarayan, since his arrival from Liga MX's Tigres UANL two years ago, has lived up to the billing as the MLS club’s crown jewel.
Look no further than the two trophies the club-record signing has brought Columbus, winning MLS Cup 2020 with an MVP performance and Campeones Cup 2021.
But Zelarayan, a self-described “winner,” isn’t content with what he’s accomplished as a Designated Player for the Black & Gold.
“I think any time the season starts, you begin with high hopes,” Zelarayan said through a translator during 2022 preseason preparations. “We hope that it’s a great year and we can reach our objectives, which is reaching the playoffs and fighting for a championship. We will work until we can raise the name of Columbus.”
That motivation arrives after Columbus, in league play, fell short of expectations – both internal and external – during 2021. They missed the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, finishing ninth in the Eastern Conference standings as a summer swoon prompted too deep a hole to emerge from. They slotted one point behind the New York Red Bulls, the East's seventh and final postseason team.
To get back, head coach Caleb Porter has big expectations for Zelarayan. An MLS All-Star last season, he has 18 goals and 11 assists across 48 regular-season games (40 starts) in Columbus. And the left-footed maestro has emerged as arguably MLS’ most dangerous free-kick specialist, a danger from any dead-ball situation.
It leaves Porter and his staff searching for ways to unlock Zelarayan and remain dangerous if he can’t feature.
“Part of the equation is where can Lucas be effective within our team,” Porter said. “Because we need him to be effective when he plays in order to have the best chance to win. So all that [has gone] into the equation of looking at shifting his role, not that we’ll do it every game. But we want to be flexible tactically, like I said. Don’t get me wrong, Lucas Zelarayan is going to be a key player for us.”
Zelarayan’s hunger is also the byproduct of a new DP contract, signed through 2024 with an option for 2025. It keeps him with Columbus through his early 30s, a building block for his nascent Armenia national team career after the Argentine-born playmaker’s switch last year. He’s since earned four caps in European World Cup qualifying.
Zelarayan, boosted by that show of faith, wants to repay Columbus and keep adding to the trophy cabinet.
“It’s a club that has treated me great from the very first minutes and I feel comfortable here,” Zelarayan said. “My family and I, we both like the city. I like my teammates, the training center, the new stadium and there’s a lot of things that made me want to stay here. So I’m glad that I renewed. As I mentioned before, I really hope to continue to achieve big things with this club.”