The number 10 is the most illustrious number in the history of the beautiful game. Players that have donned this number ooze class and possess outrageous flair, picture Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi but they also produce match-winning moments. These match winning moments are often simplified down to goals and assists.
Yet, this offseason, Columbus Crew bought attacking midfielder Lucas Zelarayán to the club. Acquired from the most dominant Mexican team of recent years, Tigres UANL. To some the move, a franchise record fee, might have seemed flawed. In 139 games for the Mexican club, Zelarayán scored 23 goals and registered 14 assists. Zelarayán’s numbers do not jump off the page, yet as anyone who has watched him knows, there is more to analyse than just goals and assists. Zelarayán passes the eye test. The Argentine was never a consistent starter for the Nuevo León side, with the legendary Tuca Ferretti not willing to compromise his system to find a permanent place for him. Zelarayán was deployed in a number of different positions while in Mexico, highlighting his versatility.
However, the Ohio based club brought the twenty-seven year old, nicknamed ‘El Chino’ on board to be its crown jewel and replace club legend, Federico Higuaín, who left in the offseason after an injury plagued last season with the club. Last season was proof that it would not be easy to replace Higuaín, as Columbus finished 2019 as the third lowest scorers in MLS, scoring just 39 goals in 34 games. But in his countrymen, Columbus may have found the perfect replacement. Seemingly always restricted by Ricardo Ferretti, at Columbus, Zelarayán has the freedom to float and concentrate on generating attacking opportunities with fellow newcomer Darlington Nagbe patrolling the midfield behind him.
The diminutive Argentine shone in the first game of the season. A man of the match performance, Zelarayán was involved in the two decisive moments of the game. First, he was tripped as he was running through on goal after spinning NYCFC defender Maxime Chanot; this foul resulted in a third minute red card, the fastest red on opening day in MLS history. Despite the man advantage Columbus failed to make their dominance pay, until Zelarayán was able to produce the class and precision that comes with being a 10. The DP received the ball with his back to goal, spun, shifting the ball onto his ‘weaker’ left foot and found the top corner.
Zelarayán was one of a number of high profile transfers from Liga MX to MLS ahead of its twenty-fifth season, and if the opening weekend is anything to go by he could be the pick of the bunch. A dark horse candidate for MLS MVP? Maybe, but one thing is for sure, this is his moment to shine.