As the Columbus Crew prepares for the team’s final regular season game of the 2021 Major League Soccer season, a big one, some of its players will find out if they have games to play shortly after. Lucas Zelarayan is the first Crew player to receive an international call-up for November’s FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Zelarayan will re-join his new national side, Armenia, following Sunday’s Decision Day match with the Chicago Fire.
Zelarayan made headlines last month when he announced that he would play for the Armenian National Team. The Crew playmaker is of Armenian descent from his father’s side of the family and knew he would be given a chance to play international football with the European country.
In October, Zelarayan made his Armenian debut against Iceland and recorded an assist in the 1-1 draw in Reykjavik. He played in both of Armenia’s matches in October and will likely see the pitch in the final two group stage games in World Cup qualifying. A notable teammate of Zelarayan for Armenia is AS Roma midfielder Henrik Mkhitaryan.
Armenia will remain home for its final two matches in the group stage of UEFA World Cup qualifiers. The first match in Yerevan will be on Nov. 11 against North Macedonia followed by the last game in the group on Nov. 14 versus the already-qualified Germany. Armenia enters these matches in fourth place in Group J, just one point behind Romania for that second-place playoff spot. Should Armenia finish in second place, Zelarayan and company will play in a four-team playoff next March to try and make the nation’s first FIFA World Cup.
Zelarayan will return to Europe in peak form after some stunning goals and having remarkable performances for the Crew at the end of the regular season. The 29 year old has scored three goals in his last two games and is fresh off a brace against D.C. United in the Black & Gold’s final road match of the regular season. His two-goal game earned him the MLS Player of the Week for the second time in 2021.
In all likelihood, Zelarayan will not be the only Crew player to play international soccer right after Decision Day. Expected to join their national sides are Jonathan Mensah with Ghana and Liam Fraser with Canada. American striker Gyasi Zardes might miss out on a call-up to the United State’s Men’s National Team squad with a recent injury and winger Luis Diaz isn’t a guarantee to be on the Costa Rica squad in November.
The Black & Gold will attempt to make the MLS Cup playoffs on Sunday when they host the Chicago Fire on MLS Decision Day. The Black & Gold must win to at least have a chance to make the postseason, with the club also needing other results to propel them into the top seven.