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Zelarayan’s brilliance earns Crew season-opening win

The new Designated Player proved worth his money.

MLS: New York City FC at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach Caleb Porter talks about Columbus Crew SC’s season-opening win.

Posted by Massive Report on Sunday, March 1, 2020

Columbus Crew SC won its opening game of the 2020 season as Lucas Zelarayan put in a Designated Player-worthy performance, scoring the lone goal of the game as the Black & Gold defeated New York City FC 1-0.

The tactical plans changed early with Maxime Chanot’s third minute red card. Neither team had a chance to settle into a rhythm before a long ball from Eloy Room landed in Zelarayan’s path. Chanot, trailing the Argentine playmaker, stepped through his path and clipped his heels. Zelarayan went down and referee, Ramy Touchanm didn’t hesitate to send off the New York center back.

Columbus wasn’t able to take advantage with possession or shots until midway through he first half.

The first good chance for the Crew came in the 25th minute after a long spell of Black & Gold possession. With the ball on the right, winger Pedro Santos took two touches centrally to give himself space and whipped in a left footed shot that flew over the bar.

Santos had another chance just two minutes later after more close passing with Zelarayan working with fullback Harrison Afful and the ball pinging back to Santos. His one-time shot blazed just above the bar.

Again it was Santos on the end of a Crew attacking move in the 37th minute. After overhitting a cross to the far side, Santos headed the return cross by left back Milton Valenzuela that goalkeeper Sean Johnson saved easily.

The visitors struggled to break the Crew’s aggressive defense. Alexandru Mitrita fired in a soft shot from distance in the 28th minute that goalkeeper Eloy Room picked up easily.

NYCFC’s chance in the 42nd minute caused more issues. The defense struggled with a long Alexander Ring pass and Ronald Matarrita’s close angled shot forced Room to concede a corner kick that resulted in nothing for the visitors.

The Crew finally broke through and it was Zelarayan’s individual brilliance that finished off a team goal. Darlington Nagbe switched the field to open up the NYCFC defense with a pass to Afful. The right back took a touch centrally while Zelarayan moved into the open space and received the ball.

As the defense closed, he moved the ball onto his left foot and curved the shot into the upper 90 of the goal for the breathtaking finish and giving the Black & Gold the lead in the 56th minute.

The Citizens tested the Crew backline 20 minutes into the second half after James Sands released Mitrita. His chance was snuffed out by Room’s quick action to smother the ball.

The Crew had a chance to double the lead 74th minute with Zelarayan on the ball. He sent the ball wide right to substitute Luis Diaz, but the Costa Rican’s open goal shot went well wide of goal and was nearer to the corner flag.

Columbus looked to lock down the game, bringing in Fanendo Adi to replace Gyasi Zardes and replacing Zelarayan with Chris Cadden. The Crew was able to see out the tight 1-0 lead with a single New York City shot on goal in the last second half, as Matarrita had a weak attempt late in stoppage time that ended as an easy Room save.

That’s why he’s here

A $7 million transfer fee, replacing Federico Higuain and tasked with leading the offense, - Lucas Zelarayan has a lot of expectations put on his shoulders, but today’s performance is clear evidence of why the team brought him in. He created several chances and generated a goal out of a bit of magic. His scoreline was two shots, a key pass and dynamic passing across the field. He was active in the press, making two tackles and closing down consistently.

Save Room

The Crew goalkeeper settled into the lineup quickly after his midseason signing, but was only able to record one shutout in his 12 starts, against the Philadelphia Union, last year in the penultimate game of 2019. He’s one for one in 2020. Room recorded three saves in the game, including one late in stoppage time to seal the win and the shutout.

What’s Next

The win moves the Crew to 1-0-0 with three points on the year. The Black & Gold now head west for a late Saturday game against the defending MLS Cup Champion, Seattle Sounders. Kickoff is at 10:00 p.m. ET.