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Anatomy of a Goal: Lucas Zelarayan volleys home an MLS Cup winner

This week we look at Lucas Zelarayan’s goal that brought home MLS Cup for the Crew.

MLS: Cup Final-Seattle Sounders FC vs Columbus Crew SC Columbus Dispatch-USA TODAY NETWORK

Welcome back to the Anatomy of a Goal, where each week we dissect one goal (or near goal) from the Columbus Crew’s previous match.

For the 2020 MLS Cup, we take a look at Lucas Zelarayan’s (10) 25th minute goal that gave the Crew a 1-0 lead and set the tone for their 3-0 MLS Cup win over the Seattle Sounders.

Here is a look at Zelarayan’s MLS Cup-winning goal.

Columbus took the field without both Darlington Nagbe and Pedro Santos who were declared medically unavailable to perform in the MLS Cup Final. That didn’t stop the Black & Gold from pouring on the pressure early against the defending champion Sounders. In the 17th minute, and in the midst of a slew of Crew corner kicks, Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei instinctively saved a hard hit Gyasi Zardes (9) shot off the line. Columbus continued to apply pressure until the eventual breakthrough in the 25th minute.

Zelarayan’s game-winning goal begins with a long Joao Paulo pass toward Jordan Morris.

Morris was prepared for a pass over the top of Harrison Afful (25) but Paulo’s pass falls short. Afful steps toward the pass to win the ball off of the first bounce.

Afful reaches the ball and hits a first touch pass to 19-year-old Aidan Morris (21), who stepped into the lineup as the youngest starter in MLS Cup history due to the absence of Nagbe.

Nicolas Lodeiro sprints toward Morris to try to intercept the ball from the young midfielder.

Morris shields off Lodeiro, placing his body between the Uruguayan attacker and the ball.

Morris then uses his first touch to send the ball away from Lodeiro, setting the Sounder off balance and Morris free. If this move looks familiar it is because you’ve seen Nagbe do it multiple times. Nagbe is one of the best players in the league at keeping the ball away from defenders and often does so with the exact move that Morris uses here.

Morris turns toward the midfield to start the Black & Gold attack.

The young midfielder spies left back Milton Valenzuela (19) and quickly plays a field switching pass toward his teammate.

Valenzuela picks up the ball with yards of space ahead of him and carries the ball across the midfield line.

Valenzuela is met by Joevin Jones. After a few attempts to beat the Seattle winger, Valenzuela plays a quick pass forward to Derrick Etienne (22).

Etienne picks up the ball with Alex Roldan on his back. The Crew winger turns the ball back toward his defensive half.

Through the rest of this goal breakdown, notice the positioning of Jones and Roldan. Columbus’ movement on this entire play disorganizes Seattle and eventually allows Zelarayan to get off an uncontested shot on goal.

Jones follows Valenzuela’s overlapping run. This leaves Roldan to chase Etienne back toward midfield. Now, Jones (a winger) is in Roldan’s (a right back) spot on the field.

Roldan continues to pressure Etienne who resets play to Morris.

Etienne, knowing that the Sounders are not pressing, turns to make an attacking run back up the left flank.

Roldan, a defender, is now the second furthest forward Seattle player on the field. This should not be a problem. Jones or one of the central midfielders should slot into Roldan’s defensive responsibilities. Fortunately for the Black & Gold that does not happen.

Morris turns toward the right side of the field where Afful waits on the sideline.

Roldan begins his long track back. In this image, you can see that Jones has come forward with Valenzuela. You can also see both of the Sounders’ central midfielders not marking anyone. Nouhou Tolo has pushed out to mark Luis Diaz (12). That leaves Zelarayan and Gyasi Zardes (9) left to be marked only by the two center backs.

Roldan spots Zelarayan running open toward the goal. He gestures to Jones to drop back on defense.

Roldan scrambles back on defense while Morris switches fields, again, to Afful.

Jones halfheartedly points toward Zelarayan as Roldan attempts to drop back onto the Crew’s No. 10.

Afful picks up the ball and takes a few touches toward the Seattle endline. From this angle, you can see why Roldan was gesturing toward Jones and has been sprinting back on defense.

Columbus’ movement dragged the Sounders’ right defensive side up the field. This vacated space on the attacking left side for Zelarayan to run onto. Meanwhile, Zardes angles his run between the two center backs to force Yeimar Gomez to either go with him and open up more space or hope that Shane O’Neill picks up the striker.

Afful carries the ball forward and now has five options. He can play a quick pass forward to Diaz, play a long, early cross to Zelarayan at the back post, hit a long through pass to Zardes, carry the ball forward or play a square pass to Artur (8).

Afful sees Zelarayan running free and hits an early cross toward the back post. Roldan attempts to grab Zelarayan to at least slow down his unmarked run into the goal box.

Roldan is unable to get a hold of Zelarayan and ends up slowing his own momentum by lunging forward.

Zelarayan now has no one between him and the goal and an eye on the ball falling into his path.

The ball lands right in Zelarayan’s path, leaving him three options. He can hit a first-touch shot on goal, bring down the ball and take a touch forward or hit a first-touch pass into the path of Zardes.

Zelarayan makes the impact decision and hits a first-touch shot right toward Frei.

Frei has to shift his weight to his left but looks like he will get in front of the shot.

Frei drops down and gets a hand on Zelarayan’s shot.

The ball hits the inside of Frei’s hand and spins toward the goalline.

Roldan and the rest of Seattle can only watch as the ball slowly spins across the goal-line . . .

. . . into the back of the net!

Findings:

  1. This goal is the direct result of Caleb Porter’s game plan to unsettle Seattle. By switching field twice, the Crew pulled the Sounders toward the midfield and created open space that an early cross could exploit.
  2. What more can be said about Morris that hasn’t already been? The teenager stepped onto the field in the place of the heart of Columbus’ midfield and did an impeccable job. The way Morris shielded the ball from Lodeiro and quickly changed directions to free up space is an excellent technique that MLS players have mastered by 19 years old.
  3. Etienne and Valenzuela combine to pull the defensively-weaker Jones back toward the goal and the right back Roldan away from the goal. This leaves the offensive left side to be attacked either in open space or against a weaker defender.
  4. When Jones decided not to track back, Zelarayan saw this open space and immediately made a run toward the goal.
  5. Afful had yet another excellent playoff game. He was able to see Zelarayan making an open run to the far post, on the opposite side of the field no less, and was also able to make an inch-perfect early cross to his No. 10.
  6. Zelarayan showed exactly why he is wearing the No. 10 for the Black & Gold. Playmakers make plays and he did exactly that. Sure, Frei should have made a save, but the pace and slight rotation that Zelarayan was able to put on the ball were too difficult for Frei to handle.