Lucas Zelarayan has signed an extension with Columbus Crew for another title
The kind of endless, agonizing negotiations that can accompany signing a star player for a contract extension was non-existent with Crew’s Lucas Zelarayan.
Team president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said at the end of the 2021 season that Zelarayan deserved to be paid closer to his performance as one of MLS’s elite players. Shortly after, the Crew announced they were re-signing the 29-year-old Argentine attacking midfielder until 2024, with a club option for 2025.
In his first interview since re-signing, Zelarayan said it was an easy decision. And he’s the one who has shown his belief that the crew can win at least one more MLS Cup before his contract expires at 33.
“This is a club that treated me well from the first minute,” Zelarayan said through a club interpreter. “I feel comfortable here. Me and my family, we both love the city. I love my teammates, the training centre, the new stadium. And there are a lot of things that made me happy. made me want to stay here, so I’m glad I renewed. I really hope to achieve great things with this club.”
According to salary data from the MLS Players Association, Zelarayan’s base salary of $1,620,000 was second on the team and 30th in Major League Soccer. His guaranteed salary of $1,985,000 – which includes bonuses during a player’s contract – was 28th in MLS in 2021.
For a player who won the 2020 MLS Newcomer of the Year award, was named MLS Cup MVP and carried the crew through last season, there’s no doubt the new salary of Zelarayan will more accurately represent where he sits among the best players in MLS.
Zelarayan has had its ups and downs in 2021. He broke the club’s single-season free-kick goals record with four – good enough for the second in MLS history – and finished the season on a tear, scoring five goals and three assists in the last five games. to end the season as a team leader with 12 goals and seven assists. However, he went through a streak of just one goal and one assist in 12 games from August 7 to October 16. Still, the crew showed their confidence by not hesitating to extend it with higher pay.
Zelarayan said there’s a lot of motivation after missing the playoffs last season to get the team back to where they think they should be competing each year.
“I want to win another title with the club,” he said.
Team coach Caleb Porter and Bezbatchenko have opted to be a little more creative and pragmatic in setting up the team this season. Porter is currently preparing to play on multiple systems for opponents to guess what the Crew will throw at them, which includes playing Zelarayan out of his normal central attacking midfield role – the No.10 – at times.
“Part of the equation is where Lucas can be most effective in our team, because we need him to be effective when he’s playing in order to have the best chance of winning,” Porter said.
Zelarayan’s tendency is to drop the ball down the left side and cut down the middle for scoring opportunities. He said he thinks playing on the left wing will sometimes lead to good results, which is what the crew is betting on and what Zelarayan thinks he can deliver as a go-to player in the long run.
“Every time the season starts, you start with high hopes,” Zelarayan said. “We hope it will be a great year and that we can achieve our goals, which are to make the playoffs and then fight for a championship. We will work to be able to elevate the Columbus name.