Columbus Crew SC is set to sign a replacement for Federico Higuain at attacking midfielder and the Black & Gold are ready to pay for it.
The Crew is set to bring in 27-year-old Lucas Zelarayan from Liga MX side Tigres UANL. Massive Report learned on Wednesday morning that “it was a matter of time” before Columbus signed Zelarayan and this transfer, which was reported by a number of Mexican outlets, was confirmed by The Columbus Dispatch’s Jacob Myers on Wednesday evening.
As Myers reported, the Crew will pay a club-record transfer fee to Tigres for Zelarayan. Sources close to the club told Massive Report that the deal will be close to an $8 million fee. The previous club record was the $2 million paid for Pedro Santos in 2017. According to Myers, the contract will be a Designated Player deal and will be for three seasons with an option for a fourth. Massive Report was unable to confirm the contract details.
Given the Designated Player status, the Black & Gold will have to buy down at least two contracts from Luis Diaz, Pedro Santos, Milton Valenzuela and Gyasi Zardes with Targeted Allocation Money.
The Crew’s club spokesperson declined to comment on the deal.
Columbus was linked with another playmaker this offseason, Paraguayan Ivan Franco. Sources confirmed to Massive Report that Franco was indeed a target but the club elected to pursue Zelarayan.
Zelarayan began his youth career at Club Atlético Belgrano in his home country of Argentina before graduating to the club’s senior side. He made his debut for Belgrano in 2012 and appeared nine total times for the team that season. In four years with the first team, Zelarayn featured 78 times in all competition, scoring 10 goals.
In December of 2015, Zelarayn made his move to Tigres and Liga MX and made his debut for the club less than one month later. The midfielder appeared over 100 times for the Mexican side, scoring 23 goals and adding 14 assists. During his time with the club, Tigres finished third in the Liga MX Apertura in 2016, second in 2017 and second in the Clausura in 2019.
Zelarayn steps into an important role for the Crew going forward. Following the 2019 season, one where Columbus missed the playoffs for the first time in three years, the Black & Gold elected not to bring back Higuain after eight seasons with the club. Despite missing most of last year with a knee injury, Higuain’s departure left a massive hole in the middle of the Columbus offense and one head coach Caleb Porter and president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said following the season was of the utmost importance to fill.
Similar to Santos a year ago, Zelarayn is a more direct player. This type of player fits with the Black & Gold’s transition-based playing style that saw the team lose just twice in its final 13 matches of 2019. Zelarayn is expected to be with his new Columbus teammates when the team reports for preseason in January.
The move by the Crew’s ownership group of the Haslam and Edwards families, who took over operating the club less than a year ago, to acquire a player of this caliber shows a dedication to putting a quality product on the field in Columbus. It also marks the ownership’s ambition to keep up with the rest of Major League Soccer, as teams such as the Vancouver Whitecaps and Sporting Kansas City each made club-record signings this offseason.