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Lucas Zelarayan joins Armenian national team

Surprise move means October European World Cup Qualifiers for the Crew midfielder

MLS: CF Montreal at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew has a strong history of international players on the team’s roster. That list added a new name in midfielder Lucas Zelarayan. The Argentina-born Crew star was announced as the newest addition to the Football Federation of Armenia by the FFA on Tuesday. Born in Cordoba, Argentina, Zelarayan has family heritage connecting himself to the European nation, which made the transition possible.

At 29 years old, Zelarayan hasn’t played national soccer with the Argentina senior team, with the club boasting European stars like Paris Saint-Germain’s Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria. Just because Zelarayan had the ability to play for Armenia, doesn’t mean the decision was an easy one.

“It wasn’t a decision made in one day. It was a well-thought step,” said Zelarayan in an interview with the Football Federation of Armenia. “I have spoken to the FFA president Armen Melikbekyan and the national team head coach Joaquin Caparros during the last year. They represented the program of the federation to me.”

The Crew confirmed that Zelaryan obtained his passport, but the team is yet to receive a request from the FFA for Zelarayan’s release for upcoming October World Cup qualifiers.

There may not be a long wait for the Crew midfielder to show what he’s got on the international stage, as Zelarayan could still join Armenia next month for World Cup qualifier matches against Iceland and Romania. Armenia plays Iceland on Oct. 8 and Romania on Oct. 11.

Armenia is currently ranked 89th in the FIFA men’s rankings and hasn’t qualified for a World Cup since joining international soccer in 1992. In the 2022 World Cup Qualifying, Armenia is in second place in the nation’s group, behind only Germany by five points.

“I am aware of the big goals this team wants to achieve and I am ready to do my best to make this happen,” said Zelarayan. “I am happy to join the Armenian national team during this important period and I hope to have new achievements with the national team.”

For Armenia to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, they’ll have to win their group or be in the final three teams in the 12-team European playoff.

Armenia hopes that the impact Zelarayan has made on the Crew comes with him to Europe. Since joining the Black & Gold in December 2019, Zelarayan’s won the MLS Newcomer of the Year award, 2020 MLS Cup MVP and made the 2021 MLS All-Star team.

In two seasons with Columbus, Zelarayan has 14 goals and three assists. Most notably, the free kick specialist has scored five from set pieces in 2021, so far.

Zelarayan joins midfielder Alexandru Matan as only the second European international currently on the Crew roster. If Armenia qualifies for the World Cup in 2022, he will be the third player on the current roster to play in a World Cup, alongside Ghana international defenders Jonathan Mensah and Harrison Afful.

If it happens Zelarayan will be the first player in Black & Gold history to play for the Armenian National Team, and only the fifth in league history.