Lucas Zelarayan was signed by the Columbus Crew as a Designated Player on Dec. 19, 2019. He was a record signing for the club, costing a reported $8 million to join Major League Soccer from Tigres UANL of Mexico’s Liga MX, as the Black & Gold made its transition from former head coach Gregg Berhalter to Caleb Porter.
As it turns out, that was money well spent. On Friday, Zelarayan was named MLS’s Newcomer of the Year for the 2020 season, an award for the player who made his MLS debut this year but has previous professional experience. Zelarayan received the most votes from a panel of current MLS players, MLS club technical staffs and a select group of media members and won the award over two other finalists, the Chicago Fire’s Robert Beric and Sporting Kansas City’s Alan Pulido.
“We are extremely proud of Lucas’ performance in his first season with the club and are glad to see his efforts earn him the recognition he deserves,” Crew President and General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko said of the honor. “From the moment he chose Columbus and this Club, Lucas has been committed to elevating his game and his teammates around him. It is never easy to arrive to a new league, let alone in a year that was heavily impacted by factors beyond our control, but Lucas has shown his desire to stand out from the very first day he arrived in Central Ohio. Lucas’ performances and ability speak for themselves, and I think this season he has shown why it was crucial for the Club to add him to the roster. The level of investment from the Haslam and Edwards Families to bring a player of Lucas’ caliber aboard made this possible, and after just one season we are happy for Lucas knowing that this is only the beginning for him.”
It didn’t take long for Zelarayan to settle in with his new team. The Crew’s No. 10 scored the first goal of the season on March 1 in a 1-0 win against New York City FC. He then scored a dazzling free kick — an MLS Goal of the Year nominee — against in-state rivals FC Cincinnati two matches later in a 4-0 win at the teams’ first game of the MLS is Back Tournament.
While he battled injuries throughout the shortened and expedited 2020 season, Zelarayan still managed to score six goals and provide four assists in 16 appearances, 12 starts. Three of the Argentinean’s goals and two of his assists were game-winners for Columbus. Zelarayan also led the Crew in goal-scoring chances created per 90 minutes (2.7), completed dribbles (40) and was named to the MLS Team of the Week five times, more than another Black & Gold player.
Zelarayan is only the second Columbus player to win the MLS Newcomer of the Year award and the first since Federico Higuain took home the honors in 2012.
It was also announced on Friday that Zelarayan has one of MLS’s top 25 highest-selling jerseys in the league, coming in at No. 23.
Zelarayan and the Crew will begin their quest for an MLS Cup title on Saturday, Nov. 21 when the New York Red Bulls come to MAPFRE Stadium. In his first season with the club, Zelarayan hopes to bring the team its first MLS championship since 2008.
“This is one of the best regular seasons that the team has had so we’re proud of that,” he said on Sunday. “We need to believe in ourselves. I believe in this team. I think we have been showing this all year and we’re proud of the team that we are. We will be able to continue to fight for as long as we’re in the playoffs.”