The Columbus Crew just completed what was the strangest seasons in Major League Soccer history, due to COVID-19 delays, mid-season tournaments and a compressed end-of-season schedule that was unprecedented. The Black & Gold returned to the MLS Cup playoffs with a 12-6-5 record that saw the team finish in third place in the Eastern Conference.
On Wednesday, a number of the Crew players that helped Columbus return to the postseason were recognized as finalists for MLS individual awards. Playmaker Lucas Zelarayan is up for the MLS Newcomer of the Year Award. Center back Jonathan Mensah is a candidate for the league’s Defender of the Year honor. Eloy Room is a finalist for Goalkeeper of the Year. Left back Milton Valenzuela is nominated for the Comeback Player of the Year.
Zelarayan was acquired by the Crew in mid-December of 2019 from Tigres UANL of Mexico’s Liga MX for a club-record fee. Replacing Federico Higuain as the club’s No. 10, Zelarayan appeared in 16 of the Black & Gold’s 23 games in the regular season, making 12 starts, while battling injuries. Zelarayan recorded six goals and four assists in his debut season for Columbus with three goals and two assists classified as game-winners. Zelarayan also led the team in chances created per 90 minutes (2.7) and completed dribbles (40).
In his fourth season with the Crew, Jonathan put together a career year. The 30 year old appeared in every game for the Black & Gold, playing all 2,070 minutes, helping the team record a league-best nine shutouts. Jonathan leads the league in blocks (30), passes for a defender (1,473) and clearances (114). During the season, Jonathan played his 100th game for Columbus while also signing a contract extension.
Room, who is in his second season with the Crew, featured 17 times for the Black & Gold in 2020, making 41 saves. Despite missing time due to injury, the goalkeeper record seven shutouts, tied for third-most in MLS, while playing fewer games than either player ahead of him. Room had a consecutive shutout streak of 473 minutes, beginning with the 4-0 win against rivals FC Cincinnati to kick off the MLS is Back Tournament and ending five matches later in the 2-2 draw on the road to the Chicago Fire.
After suffering an ACL tear in the preseason that cost him all of the 2019 season, Valenzuela returned to be a strong part of both the Crew’s defense and attack. Appearing in 19 games, 17 starts, the Argentinean defender was a part of a defensive group that conceded just 21 goals throughout the 2020 regular season, the second-best record in MLS. Valenzuela has contributed three assists this season, the most of any defender on the Black & Gold roster, with two of those resulting in game-winning goals.
The MLS Comeback Player of the Year award is expected to be announced on Thursday, Nov. 12 followed by MLS Newcomer of the Year on Friday, Nov. 13, Goalkeeper of the Year on Monday, Nov. 16 and Defender of the Year on Wednesday, Nov. 18. The finalists were determined by votes from current MLS players, MLS coaches, technical directors/general managers and select media members who consistently covered the 2020 MLS regular season.
The Crew will face the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, Nov. 21 in the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs. That game is scheduled for a 3 p.m. ET kickoff on SportsTime Ohio, Unimas and TUDN.