Columbus Crew: Lucas Zelarayan adds another chapter of greatness at the perfect time

Porter: “That second goal looked like the Argentine Babe Ruth."

Jacob Myers
The Columbus Dispatch
Crew midfielder Lucas Zelarayan  celebrates after scoring against New York on Saturday. Zelarayan became the second player in Crew history to score on two free kicks in a game.

HARRISON, N.J. — The shrug said it all. 

After scoring the game-winning goal a fraction of a yard outside the penalty area on Saturday against New York City FC, Lucas Zelarayan sprinted toward the corner flag, looked toward the hysteria having just broken out on the Crew bench and smirked with his palms facing upward to truly capture the disbelief of what everyone had just witnessed. 

Not quite 15 months have passed since Zelarayan first played a game for the Crew, and there’s already a wealth of memorable moments for the technically gifted and clutch attacking midfielder. 

The Argentine attached another brilliant performance to his legend in a 2-1 win with two free-kick goals — the second of which came in the final minute of stoppage time. 

In his past 11 games in all competitions, Zelarayan has delivered time and again when the Crew has needed him most. He did so in the MLS Cup with a pair of goals. He nearly willed the Crew to a win in the first leg against Liga MX club CF Monterrey in CONCACAF Champions League play. 

Then came Saturday night, with the Crew on the ropes and needing something positive after a sluggish start to the season, especially offensively. 

In that context, the highest level of his talent came through at the perfect time. 

“I have never scored two free-kick goals in one match,” Zelarayan said through a club translator. “It's the first time in my career I've done that. As I was standing over the ball I tried to concentrate on scoring, and I tried to visualize it, and I thought about all the hard work, and I thought about the fact that we needed a victory. The goal frankly came because we deserved it. Not just me, but my teammates and the club in general.” 

New York City FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson can't stop a game-winning shot by Crew midfielder Lucas Zelarayan on Saturday.

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Trailing 1-0 in the 82nd minute, Zelarayan hit a screaming line drive from almost 30 yards out and forced goalkeeper Sean Johnson to his right. The ball then darted the opposite way, freezing Johnson in his tracks. 

When forward Gyasi Zardes was awarded a foul barely outside the box, there was an undeniable sense that something spectacular might just happen. Crew coach Caleb Porter said he saw Zelarayan point to the top-left corner before he quickly got the ball up over a wall of defenders and dipped the ball back down below the bar for the winner. 

“That second goal looked like the Argentine Babe Ruth,” Porter said. “He's pointing to the corner and walking off before he even hit the ball. It was unbelievable. It's just a different level, this kid." 

Porter was referencing baseball legend Babe Ruth supposedly having “called his shot” in the 1932 World Series before hitting a home run, which is disputed by baseball historians. 

There won’t be a Crew fan who believes Zelarayan didn't call his shot, which is fine. It adds to the legend. There's probably a good chance he has never heard of Babe Ruth. Even better.

Regardless, he’s just the second player in Crew history to score two free kicks in the same game. The other was his predecessor as the club’s attacking midfielder, Federico Higuain, against New England in 2012. There’s a good chance he’s also one of the only players in MLS history to score both goals via free kick in a win — not to mention it coming on pretty much the final play of the game.

Crew midfielder Lucas Zelarayan, right, celebrates with teammates after scoring against New York City FC on Saturday.

Midfielder Darlington Nagbe, whom Zelarayan credited significantly for the win, said Zelarayan’s performance is likely top five in terms of all-time games he has seen in his 11-year career. 

“That's what we expect out of him,” Nagbe said. “Happy he's on our side." 

The Crew needs more than just Zelarayan to win the number of games it needs to compete near the top of the MLS standings. Maybe this was the game that can lift the burden a bit off everyone else. 

"In terms of helping us gain our confidence back, this was a must,” Zelarayan said. “If we analyze it, it was a very difficult game, but we were able to pull through.”