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Crew rumor mill heats up

Center back incoming and possible Pipa replacement lined up?

MLS: Concacaf Champions League- Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC is looking to retool thee roster after missing the MLS Cup playoffs in 2019. The team moved quickly to bring in Darlington Nagbe to shore up the midfield, but all the other moves have been building depth. Jordan Hamilton, Axel Sjoberg and Matt Lampson are pieces to fill the roster, but holes remain, especially in attack.

Now it appears that the team is ready to make a few moves to augment the starting lineup.

Vito Wormgoor

One rumor that’s a lock to happen is the signing of a new center back. Dutch defender Vito Wormgoor became a free left after his contract with Brann ended and sources tell Massive Report he is indeed headed to the Crew. The link was first reported by Norwegian television TV 2’s website. That connection became much more solid this week after Wormgoor’s agent posted several Instagram stories from Columbus, including dining at the Guild House in the Short North and taking in a Columbus Blue Jackets game.

The Crew see the need to upgrade the center back spot after the departure of Lalas Abubakar and Alex Crognale. Josh Williams has a lengthy injury history recently and turns 32 years old during the 2020 season. Sjoberg likewise has struggled with injuries. Aboubakar Keita played well in limited time, but remains raw. Wormgoor is a veteran presence to pair with Jonathan Mensah as Keita develops.

Massive Report has learned that the deal is complete and will be announced within days.

Rumor rating: Only waiting on the press release

Lucas Zelarayan

The Crew has a hole at the playmaker position after the departure of Federico Higuain and the team stated it has looked at playmakers since the summer, but no real rumors have popped up until this week. First reported on Monday by the Tigres UNAL focused Twitter account Tigre De Corbata, Lucas Zelarayan is looking to move clubs and the Black & Gold are interested.

Adding fuel to the rumor, Tigres confirmed it received an offer from an MLS team for Zelarayan. Two Mexican-based outlets, Mediotiempo and Liga MX reporter Pello Maldonado, name the Crew as the MLS team looking to acquire Zelarayan.

Tigres media is well-positioned to report on a player leaving the team and likely has sources with the club and the player to fill in details around a possible transfer.

From the Crew’s perspective, Zelarayan fills a very big need. He an instant impact starter in the playmaker spot. He’s a different sort of playmaker, more direct, than Higuain, but it’s a style that the Black & Gold played with Pedro Santos at the No. 10 in 2019. At 27 years old, Zelarayan is an established player who will accelerate the evolution of the Crew offense.

Rumor rating: With a $9 million reported fee, there’s a good chance that transfer record is broken.

Ivan Franco

This is a name beyond speculation and into the realm of wishful thinking. A Paraguayan midfielder, Franco currently plays for Libertad in the Primera División of Paraguay, but has an offer from MLS according to his club. He’s a 19-year-old playmaker who has 63 first-team appearances and 16 goals in his young career. He’s also earned a call-up to his national team in September.

There is nothing in these reports to tie Franco to the Crew, but he’s the ideal target if the team wants to buy a future star that has significant upside, much like Atlanta United with another Paraguayan rising star, Miguel Almiron. Franco made a splash in the Copa Libertadores and is already reportedly on the radar of Paris Saint Germain. Getting a prospect already attracting European attention would take something well beyond a team-record transfer fee. It would be the biggest statement of how the Crew hopes to invest in on the field talent in the future.

Rumor rating: Pure imagination

Update: Apparently Franco was a target.

With camp opening in little over a month, the Crew appear to be close to adding a couple key parts to the 2020 roster. With Wormgoor in the fold and the possible addition of Zelarayan, Columbus appears to be bringing in players with some physicality and directness. It’s a style that head coach Caleb Porter is familiar and comfortable with.