But the one surprise that did occur happened prior to kickoff when the lineups were announced. Black & Gold playmaker Lucas Zelarayan was not listed in the starting lineup, nor on the bench for Columbus, meaning the Argentinean played no part in the team’s first game in three weeks.
As it turns out, the midfielder was out from a lingering ankle injury that forced him to come off the bench against Atlanta United in the MLS is Back Tournament.
“Lucas, he’s getting there,” head coach Caleb Porter said of Zelarayan postgame. “He had a sore ankle. He actually played all three matches, he was about 80 percent in Orlando in the matches he played. So all the quality he showed, he was about 80 percent. So it just kept getting worse, the ankle, and so we decided to shut him down. The medical staff and the doctors made that decision. It’s nothing too serious but we just felt like that he needed a game to kind of get that thing calmed down. Because what we don’t want is him playing 80 percent, we don’t want him in and out. We want him in.”
Without Zelarayan against the Fire, Pedro Santos moved into the attacking midfield role he operated most of last season and Luis Diaz and Derrick Etienne Jr. started on the wings. Despite having the team’s primary playmaker — Zelarayan has three goals and two assist in five games — Columbus was able to control play for periods, create chances and, most importantly, score three goals.
But the Black & Gold want their No. 10 back and at 100 percenent.
Zelarayan has not trained in full since the Crew returned from Orlando in late July, Massive Report has learned. As Porter mentioned, the medical staff decided to shut him down in order to let the ankle issues calm down.
It’s now been nearly a month since Zelarayan last played a game. With the Black & Gold set to take part in the team’s second contest of MLS’s Phase 1 of the restart against New York City FC on Monday, Zelarayan may be available in some capacity.
“Really well,” Porter said when asked how the club’s No. 10 was coming along on Saturday. “He trained today. Obviously he’s been out a couple of weeks, so not sure if he’ll be available the next game. It might be tight but he could play some minutes. It’ll depend on tomorrow’s session.
“We’re still, for the group that played that last game, in that 48-hour window where we’re recovering. We did have our second session with the group that didn’t play, and then tomorrow everyone will be back in, matchday plus three, which means now we can set our team, we’ll roll out basically our game plan tomorrow and make final decisions on who starts, who’s on the bench, who travels. So we still have some moving parts that we have to evaluate.”
In addition to Zelarayan, both goalkeeper Eloy Room and winger Youness Mokhtar missed the game against the Fire. Both players suffered injuries in Orlando and are still recovering. The prognostication for Zelarayan looks promising, but it doesn’t sound quite as good for Room or Mokhtar.
“We have some guys coming back from injuries that might be back in training but not ready to play,” Porter continued. “But the good news is that means next week we’ve got a little bit bigger window and naturally we’re going to have come back in, which will really help us with the last four matches of this window.”
The Crew play at NYCFC on Monday night at 7 p.m. ET before traveling to FC Cincinnati the following Saturday.