Lucas Zelarayan has just achieved a milestone moment in his soccer career. The Columbus Crew’s star playmaker received his first international call-up as he will join Armenia for the October FIFA World Cup qualifiers. The Armenia Federation confirmed on Tuesday morning that the Argentine-born Zelarayan was set to represent the nation internationally. Zelarayan is of Armenian descent and accepted the invitation to suit up for the country.
The 29 year old has been a superstar for the Crew since joining in 2020. He won an MLS Cup MVP, MLS Newcomer of the Year, MLS Player of the Week and was named an MLS All-Star in less than two full seasons in the league. This season, Zelarayan is the joint top scorer on the Crew with seven goals. Five of those seven goals have come directly from free kicks, putting Zelarayan two free kick goals away from breaking the MLS single-season record.
Columbus is set not to play any matches during the October international window with Sunday’s meeting with the Philadelphia Union the final game until Oct. 16. Zelarayan won’t be the only Crew player called up as American striker Gyasi Zardes will join the United States for CONCACAF qualifiers. Other possible call-ups include Liam Fraser to Canada, Jonathan Mensah to Ghana and Luis Diaz to Costa Rica.
Zelarayan’s new nation of Armenia is in the midst of an important World Cup qualifying campaign. The small UEFA nation has never qualified for a FIFA World Cup and is currently in a competitive position to give the country a chance. Armenia currently sits in second place in Group J with a slim one-point advantage over Romania. In first place is football powerhouse Germany, which defeated Armenia 6-0 in September.
To qualify for the World Cup from Europe, a team must either finish in first place in its group or come in second and win a four-team playoff to grab a hold of the last three spots. Armenia’s best chance is to finish second and October’s matches are crucial towards that goal.
Zelarayan and Armenia will first travel to Reykjavik to play Iceland on Oct. 8. The country will follow that up with a massive match in Bucharest against third-place Romania on Oct. 11. A loss to Romania could put an end to Armenia’s World Cup aspirations with the UEFA group play set to conclude in November. If Armenia doesn't finish second in its group, a complex tiebreaker scenario could put them in the UEFA playoffs based on Nations League results.
Among Zelarayan’s new Armenian teammates is star Henrik Mkhitaryan, who has played for clubs like Arsenal, Manchester United and AS Roma. Zelarayan’s national team decision gives the Crew another player on the roster that gets international appearances and makes the roster have 16 different nations represented.