The first few games of the MLS is Back Tournament had been low-scoring as teams were shaking off the rust coming off the long layoff, but Columbus Crew SC bucked that trend on Saturday, and new playmaker Lucas Zelarayan was perhaps the biggest reason for it.
Zelarayan was all over the field in Columbus' 4-0 Hell is Real rout of FC Cincinnati, menacing opposing defenders throughout the contest, but his 27th-minute free-kick golazo stood out as undeniably the top highlight of the tournament to this point.
The sequence leading up to it and the goal itself perfectly illustrated what makes Zelarayan such a dynamic threat, from the electric run he made to draw the foul to get the free kick, to the ridiculous pinpoint shot that gave Cincy goalkeeper Przemysław Tyton no chance to make the save. After the match, Zelarayan described his thought process leading up to the epic finish.
"When you're positioning the ball, you're obviously thinking and hoping it's going to be a goal but you cannot picture yourself celebrating the goal," he said through a translator. "That's exactly what I was thinking and fortunately enough that's exactly what happened at the end."
The finish didn't surprise Crew coach Caleb Porter, who said he saw Zelarayan score similar free kicks many a time when he was doing his homework on the player. So far, the 28-year-old Argentine has been advertised when he was brought in as the club's biggest signing off the offseason, with two MLS goals already to his name, as well as a pinpoint assist on one of Gyasi Zardes' second goal on Saturday.
"I called it to the coaches on the bench before he hit it because I've seen that goal on film a bunch of times," Porter said. "We've scouted this guy extensively and I've seen him make that play time and again. It's one of the reasons we signed him. He has the ability to change a game in a moment, he drew the foul and he hits a dead ball. And top players, that's what they bring and it's just great to see, there were times last year where we didn't get those types of play. But I'll tell you, the best teams have players that do that. "