Less than a week after winning the 2020 MLS Cup, the Columbus Crew announced its annual season-ending awards to celebrate what was a trying but ultimately rewarding year for the Black & Gold. After taking home the club’s second-ever MLS Cup with a 3-0 win against the Seattle Sounders, Columbus handed out awards for Most Valuable Player, Golden Boot, Defender of the Year, Kirk Urso Heart Award, Humanitarian of the Year and Academy Player of the Year.
Most Valuable Player — Lucas Zelarayan
If a fan tuned in for just the MLS Cup Final, it still would be obvious who was the Crew’s 2020 MVP. Zelarayan capped off a fantastic first season with the Black & Gold, in which he was named MLS Newcomer of the Year, with a two-goal, one-assist performance in the championship game, for which he was named the contest’s MVP.
After joining the Crew for a club-record fee in the offseason, Zelarayan produced instantly, scoring Columbus’ first goal of the season against New York City FC back in March. The Argentinean playmaker went on to score six goals and record four assists during the MLS regular season in just 16 appearances, 12 starts, and half of Zelarayan’s goals or assists were game-winners for the Crew.
In the MLS Cup playoffs, Zelarayan took his game to another level with two goals and five assists through four postseason games. The No. 10 had one game-winning goal and three game-winning assists in the playoffs.
Golden Boot — Gyasi Zardes
The easiest of awards to determine, as it takes a simple look at the stat sheet, but one of the more difficult to earn. In 2020, Zardes once again showcased his ability as a goal scorer for the Black & Gold, recording a team-best 12 finishes in the regular season. The mark was good enough for second best in MLS behind only LAFC’s Diego Rossi’s 14 strikes this year. In four MLS Cup playoff games, Zardes found the back of the net an additional two times, bringing his 2020 total to 14 goals in all competitions.
Zardes’ 12 regular season goals take him to 44 in his three seasons with the Crew, tying him with Stren John for fourth place on the Black & Gold’s all-time scoring list. Zardes trails just Federico Higuain (55), Brian McBride (62) and Jeff Cunningham (64) for the most goals in team history.
This season marks the third straight year Zardes has taken home the Crew’s Golden Boot award. He is the only player in Black & Gold history to be the team’s top scorer in three consecutive seasons.
Defender of the Year — Jonathan Mensah
In a year when the Crew finished with the second-best defensive record in MLS, Jonathan was the major reason why. The Columbus center back played every minute of every game (regular season, MLS is Back Tournament and MLS Cup playoffs) for the MLS Cup champions, helping the team to nine shutouts, tied for the most in the league, and only 21 goals allowed. Jonathan was a key piece in that accomplishment, leading MLS in blocked shots (30), passes (1,473) and clearances (114) throughout the regular season.
The first-year captain got to hoist the MLS Cup trophy for the first time in his career after the Crew recorded three consecutive shutouts in the playoffs. Jonathan was named to the MLS Best XI and was a finalist for the MLS Defender of the Year award.
Jonathan now shares the honor of winning three consecutive Black & Gold Defender of the Year honors with former Columbus center back Chad Marshall, who accomplished the same feat from 2008-10.
Kirk Urso Heart Award — Darlington Nagbe
An award given out annually to the player that becomes the “heart” of the Crew locker room, the Kirk Urso Heart Award has a special place in Black & Gold fans’ hearts due to its recognition of the late Kirk Urso who tragically lost his life on Aug. 5, 2012, during his rookie season with Columbus.
In his first season with the Crew, Nagbe played in 18 games, 17 starts, scoring two goals and recording one assist. It was clear the Black & Gold were a better team when the Ohio native was on the field, and he took on a major role in leading the locker room.
The midfielder received this award based on a vote by the team’s leadership council.
Humanitarian of the Year — Black Players for Change
In a unique year that saw a major call for a change with social injustice, the Crew elected to give the team’s Humanitarian of the Year award to Black Players for Change instead of any one individual. This is an organization that formed this season featuring more than 170 players, coaches and staff that work to “bridge the racial equality gap” and promote change and social justice.
Founded on Juneteenth of this year, Black Players for Change looks to advance the attention on human rights inequalities across the country from protest to programs, partnerships and policies that address systemic racism. After its creation, Black Players for Change led the charge on civic engagement in this year’s elections by partnering with several groups. The organization launched a league-wide, non-partisan initiative to increase voter registration for those across the league as well as fans.
Gyasi Zardes and Darlington Nagbe will accept the award on behalf of Black Players for Change. These two Crew stars participated in the voter registration drive and helped the Black & Gold reach its goal of 100 percent voter registration for those eligible to vote in the 2020 election cycle.
Academy Player of the Year — TJ Presthus
A member of the Crew’s Under-18/19 Academy team, 17-year-old defender TJ Presthus had a fantastic year in the youth ranks. Presthus made seven appearances, all starts, for the U-18/19 team, registering the most minutes in the 2020 MLS NEXT season and scoring one goal. He also played in each game at the U-17 Generation adidas Cup for Columbus, scoring two goals.
Past winners of this award include JT Harms, Keegan Hughes, Jensen Lukacsko and Devyn Etling.