When Lucas Zelarayan arrived in Columbus in January 2020, Crew SC supporters flocked to the airport to meet the Club’s new No. 10. Watching the scene unfold, President & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko told reporters, “It’s a new level for the Crew. We’re trying to do something different than we have in the past.”
What followed was an incredible season for the Club, as it won its second MLS Cup. As for Zelarayan, he was named the MLS Newcomer of the Year and the MLS Cup MVP.
Bezbatchenko was right – this is a new level for the Crew.
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But that will be put to the test on Wednesday night when the Black & Gold host C.F. Monterrey at Historic Crew Stadium in the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinals. The second leg is May 5 in Monterrey, Mexico.
It’s a matchup that pairs the reigning MLS Cup champions against one of the continent’s strongest clubs who have won the competition four times in the last decade.
“Without a doubt, they are a great team,” Zelarayan said of his upcoming opponent. “In the last few years, they’ve won a lot of titles, but I also trust in us. We have a great roster and we will try to impose our game, just like we did last year.
“We will try to correct any mistakes we have made in past matches, as we can have as close to a perfect game as possible and get the win.”
For the Crew, they’re looking to advance to the semifinals of this modern rendition of the continental competition for the first time in Club history.
For Zelarayan personally, a meeting against Rayados means facing his former club’s biggest rival. Tigres UANL, where the attacking midfielder played from 2016-2019, and Monterrey have one of Mexico’s most storied derbies: El Clásico Regiomontano.
“It will bring back nice memories,” Zelarayan said of playing against Monterrey. “Let’s hope I can have a good game – the team and I – and that we’re able to advance.
“I know them quite well. I lived in Monterrey for four years and faced them quite often … I know the league, I know the players – the league knows me too – so it will be nice to face (a Liga MX team) again.”
While playing a familiar opponent should be a welcoming feeling for Zelarayan, he said he’s enjoyed his time playing with Columbus and hopes the team will build on its recent success.
“I achieved my first objective, which was to become a champion,” he said. “Individual awards mean a lot to me because you work hard every day to gain recognition, so it’s nice to get those. With that said, if I had a good year, I’m happy about that, but without a doubt I will work year after year so I can keep improving.”