Lucas Zelarayan has arrived.
The 27-year-old Designated Player, who arrived from Tigres for a transfer fee reportedly north of $7 million, had a simple message for Crew SC fans who met him there.
“I choose Columbus,” he said to rapturous applause from the supporters.
And, to hear Crew SC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko speak about, Columbus has chosen to move into a new era with this signing.
“It’s a new level for the Crew,” he told reporters at the airport. “We’re trying to do something different than we have in the past.”
Bezbatchenko said it’s not necessary to be the highest spending team in the league, but he said it’s been proven over the course of the last few years that the teams competing and winning MLS Cup invest significantly in their rosters.
“We want to show Columbus and our fans all across Ohio and the nation that we’re willing to make that commitment,” Bezbatchenko said, additionally citing the club’s new training ground and downtown stadium next year as examples of that commitment.
Although he said he liked the way his team ended the 2019 season — with just two losses in their last 13 games — Caleb Porter said improving the spine was critical. Signing Zelarayan after the addition of Darlington Nagbe in a trade with Atlanta United and signing free agent center back Vito Wormgoor was a critical piece of that upgrade.
“He’s going to bring that match-winning quality,” Porter said. “He’s a really smart player. In our system, 4-2-3-1 as a No. 10 you need a guy who’s going to be the bridge for your team, who’s going to run your attack and he certainly has the quality to do that.”
Porter acted as the closer in the Zelarayan deal, traveling to Monterrey to see the Argentine train and play in person.
“I don’t make a lot of visits. Usually to close a deal," Porter said. "It’s a long process to get to that point and I went there to make the final steps — to see him live in training, to see him live in a game, to meet with him in person and to sell him on our vision and our project here. The sparks flew.”
With Zelarayan as the playmaker in front of Nagbe, which allows Pedro Santos to return to the wing and with talented fullback Milton Valenzuela back from injury, expectations are high that Crew SC are a player in the Eastern Conference this year and beyond.
“The relevancy of this team has just hit new heights,” Bezbatchenko said. “You’ve seen that over the course of this year and last year, but I think it’s only to continue to grow.”