The Crew's newest Designated Player, Lucas Zelarayan, arrives in Columbus with a proven championship-caliber résumé from one of Liga MX's most successful teams over the past decade.
That pedigree extends beyond domestic trophies to international cups, such as the Concacaf Champions League and the Leagues Cup, and his ability to attain success away from his native Argentina was a notable factor in the scouting process, said Technical Director Pat Onstad.
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"We knew he was a great player, but I think the second point is that he’s played against MLS competition and he’s been very successful," Onstad said. "We’ve seen him play against [MLS teams]. We know he can be successful in this league," Onstad said, "so we feel with Lucas, the fact that he’s had the opportunity to play against competition here and done well that he should be able to continue that when he’s in the Black & Gold."
As far as international tournament success, since joining Tigres UANL in 2016, Zelarayn reached three Concacaf Champions League finals and a Leagues Cup final in addition to winning the inaugural Campeones Cup in 2018 against defending MLS Cup champion Toronto FC.
There is also the leadership expectation for Zelarayan. As President and General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko explained, the 27-year-old possesses a talent level that Crew fans have not previously witnessed in Black & Gold, and now the next step is to utilize that as a catalyst to help dictate the offense as the new No. 10.
"Lucas has been on one of the best teams in North America over the last five years. On that team, like any great team, you have to share responsibility. What we are asking him to do in Columbus is to be the person who runs the offense," Bezbatchenko said.
"And so he’s ready for that challenge. He wants to be the person that the fans look to when they see a star, when they see someone with the level of skill and guile and fortitude that’s going to lead this team back into the playoffs and hopefully for a championship."
Following the signing announcement, Bezbatchenko and Onstad discussed the 27-year-old's technical skill and other expectations they have for him and the team in 2020.
"To be a number 10 in any team you have to take a lot of responsibility on and that’ll be a big part of the role with Lucas," Onstad said. "It’s a time for him now to take a step forward and now start to run a team, so to speak. So that was something we looked at in our scouting process. We said ‘which players do we feel can step into that position and then run a team?’"
Zelarayan's adaptable skillset means he can play in the pocket or out wide, and with Pedro Santos proving he can play centrally, the interchange will make the Crew more unpredictable in terms of playing-formation or otherwise. That aspect combined with his play, whether it's live or from a deadball set-piece, makes the Crew's 2020 season that much more anticipated and, in a way, unprecedented.
"He has the ability to unlock defenses. He can quickly play one-two touch, but also has the ability to hold the ball and break down a defense with his passes," Bezbatchenko said. "Lastly, he has a great strike. On set-pieces or when the ball is moving, he can put the ball on frame and score goals. He’s a difference-maker and it’s at a different level than we’ve ever seen this club before."
In the end, it's a complete package with Zelarayan. Now, it's the challenge of helping lead a new team.
"It’s a big responsibility," Onstad said, "and I know the fans here in Columbus are excited about the possibility of a new 10 and they want to see ‘Can he lead a team?’...We feel Lucas is from Argentina, he has the profile that we are looking for, he’s gone abroad, he’s now in the stage of his career at his age, he is more than willing to try to take over a team and try to lead them to the future."