Columbus Crew SC announced on Friday the team has signed Argentinean attacking midfielder Lucas Zelarayán from Mexican giants Tigres UANL for a club record transfer fee as reported by Massive Report on Wednesday.
The 27-year-old Zelarayán will sign a multi-year Designated Player contract with the Crew and his transfer fee will cost the club nearly $8 million, according to sources close to the situation. The midfielder, nicknamed ‘El Chino’ (The Chinese) during his time in Mexico, lands in Columbus with the huge responsibility of replacing fellow Argentinean playmaker and club legend Federico Higuaín, who left the Crew at the end of the 2019 Major League Soccer season.
“The addition of Lucas Zelarayan is a major step forward for this club because it symbolizes the investment that our owners are willing to make in order to elevate this club to new heights,” said team president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko.
“Lucas is both an intelligent and skillful player whose ability to score and create goals makes him the type of playmaker we want on our team. He has been a key member of one of the most dominant Liga MX teams in recent years, consistently winning national and international titles with Tigres UANL. We expect Lucas to be both a difference-maker and a leader in our squad.”
The Crew will be just the third club in Zelarayán’s career after the midfielder played for Argentinean side Club Atletico Belgrano from 2013-2015 and spent the last four years with Tigres.
With Belgrano, Zelarayán registered 77 appearances, 10 goals and six assists. During his time in Mexico, the Argentinean made 139 appearances, scored 23 goals and provided 14 assists. He also won six domestic titles and one international trophy, the Campeones Cup in 2018, when Tigres defeated Crew rivals Toronto FC.
“It’s not easy to leave Tigres after such a great time and fantastic results, but when the offer came, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me and my family,” Zelarayán said in a farewell video posted on Tigres’ Twitter account. “Our careers as soccer players are short and we need to take the opportunities when they arrive.”
Zelarayán’s signing adds to what has been a busy off-season for the Crew as the club keeps rebuilding its roster after the arrival of the new ownership group led by the Haslam family and Dr. Pete Edwards.
After the conclusion of the 2019 season, the Black & Gold have also acquired center backs Vito Wormgoor and Axel Sjoberg and midfielder Darlington Nagbe. Zelarayán’s addition, though, answers the biggest question the team faced going into 2020, as for the first time since 2012, the Crew will not have Higuaín on its roster.
“What we loved about Lucas is that he has the game changing ability to pull a rabbit out of the hat - whether that’s with a final pass unlocking a defense or with the dribble or on a dead ball - but he is also a very intelligent player,” head coach Caleb Porter said. “With his positioning, movement and understanding of how to exploit dangerous space, Lucas provides solutions in the attack in critical moments.”
“The Argentine No. 10 has been somewhat of a Crew tradition over the years and a big reason success has come to the Club in different eras. With that in mind, we are very proud to make such a big signing in this new era of the Crew and MLS while also keeping a piece of the past Crew tradition.”