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BY THE NUMBERS: Lucas Zelarayan | A league-leader in the opponent's box

As part of a series leading up to the MLS is Back Tournament, ColumbusCrewSC.com examines key numbers and trends surrounding the players. In this edition, we take a closer look at midfielder Lucas Zelarayan.

The emphasis placed on Lucas Zelarayan as a "difference maker" heading into the 2020 season was on display in the home opener back in March, particularly after the midfielder spun off a defender and buried a curling left-footed goal vs. one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference in 2019.

And rightly so, the Argentine and the Front Office were open about the midfielder's role on this Crew team coming into the season.

Now, four months later, the Crew are set to face FC Cincinnati on July 11, and with that, we wanted to take a closer look at Zelarayan's numbers and to hear from him about what he and the team continue to expect from him.

As emphasized in an earlier Behind The Numbers feature, if Darlington Nagbe is the pace-setter for the Crew's midfield, Zelarayan represents the final kick of the relay that brings everything over the finish line. The analogy is apparent in both of the Crew's goals in 2020.

► By The Numbers: Darlington Nagbe | The most efficient central midfielder in MLS

Statistically, Zelarayan ranks first among MLS midfielders in touches in the opponent's box with 13, three of which came here:

Notably, though Zelarayan nets the finish, the build-up is important as to how the Crew looks to take advantage of space and expose opportunities quickly in the opponent's half.

As Crew TV Analyst Jordan Angeli explained in an episode of The Breakdown earlier this year, the switching of the point of attack via Nagbe's through-ball combined with Youness Mokhtar's off-the-ball run was like a training drill came to life at MAPFRE Stadium.

Following the cross-field pass and Mokhtar's run, the Crew triangulated and Afful had multiple passing lanes, as he then laid it off for Zelarayan to be the aforementioned difference-maker he was brought in to be.

In this case, it was spinning off NYCFC's Alex Ring for the game-winner.

From through-ball, to off-ball run, to pass, to goal, the Crew quickly broke lines and capitalized on Zelarayan's ability to finish, and should he have been pushed off the ball, the counter-press would be on.

Those are the situations Crew fans can expect to see.

When asked about his role after training a few weeks ago, Zelarayan said that "if I’m one of the players who touches the ball the most inside the opponent’s box, it’s because that’s what the technical staff and the team want and I feel comfortable in that section of the field."

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It's not just the technical ability to receive and play quickly, however. His ability to get by opponents, particularly in tight spaces, make him an exciting player to watch and one that ultimately puts his teammates in better positions too.

Among all midfielders who've played a minimum of 160 minutes through the first two matches, Zelarayan is tied for first in dribbles completed with nine.

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For example, take the Crew's buildup to goal in the 1-1 road draw at defending MLS Cup champions Seattle Sounders FC.

What could be unofficially considered as a tertiary assist, Zelarayan attracts the attention of three Sounders defenders, and eventually draws another defender on a near-post run, to set-up Luis Diaz's pass to where Gyasi Zardes can reach.

As Angeli examined in another episode of The Breakdown, Zelarayan is able to beat his initial defender one-on-one before dishing it off to Artur as another defender comes to.

The result is two great passes from Artur & Diaz and an easy finish for Zardes, but the initiation of the attack just outside the box begins with Zelarayan.

That and more will be on display this weekend, as Saturday's match vs. FC Cincinnati will be broadcast on FS1, TUDN, and TSN, in addition to each channel's respective apps.

Be sure to RSVP for the free Live Virtual Fan Experience to gain exclusive access to pre-match coverage featuring former Crew players and TV commentators.

Additionally, fans are also encouraged to head to Easton Town Center for a Drive-In Watch Party. More details on that, as well as the Live Virtual Fan Experience, can be found here.

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