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New striker signing Cucho Hernandez is now in Columbus and his Crew debut is imminent, but Lucas Zelarayan still commands the attention and scrutiny for the Crew’s main attacking threat.
Zelarayan had returned from an injury last Wednesday after missing three games and was carrying a nine-game scoreless streak into Sunday night’s game at Lower.com Field against the East’s third-place team, the Philadelphia Union.
Zelarayan shattered that streak in the 66th minute off a pass from Pedro Santos to give the Crew the lead in front of a sold-out crowd of 20,469 — until it was unexpectedly taken away after video review in a 0-0 draw on the one-year anniversary of the Crew’s downtown stadium.
Asked by The Dispatch after the game, Zelarayan said he hadn't yet seen a replay but didn't understand why it wasn't a goal. Coach Caleb Porter was adamant head referee Nima Saghafi got it wrong.
"I don't know how that goal's called back," Porter said. "I'm going to give you an education a bit for people that don't understand it. He's not screening the goalkeeper. If Andre Blake was screened, he would've been complaining right after. He didn't even dive. There was nothing on that play that should have been called back."
There were stretches through the first half where the Crew found space in a cutback pass to the middle of the Union’s penalty area. In the 66th minute, that’s where Santos found Zelarayan, who hammered home a shot on the first touch for a euphoric opening goal.
About a minute later, the sold-out crowd was caught off guard when the public address announcer informed everyone that the play was under review. They were despondent and felt robbed once Saghafi waved his arms to rule no goal.
The Dispatch asked the officiating crew a question through the league's pool reporter protocol but hadn't received a reply as of early Monday morning.
Here's what the official saw, but from the angle looking directly at goal.
I can see what the official saw. Don't love that the rule doesn't take into consideration if the ball can be saved or not. Tough to say either way.
Go to 5:25 here. https://t.co/hvoBz5uHrA pic.twitter.com/inZCSDaYbO
— Jacob Myers (@_jcmyers) July 4, 2022
Replay showed forward Erik Hurtado was in an offside position in front of goalkeeper Andre Blake. By rule, a player can be called offside if that player is impeding the goalkeeper's ability to play the ball by being in the player's line of vision.
Hurtado said he hadn't yet seen a replay, so he didn't know if he was in the way or not.
"I made a run to go near post and then I tried to get back onside, but I felt like I got out of the way," Hurtado said. "I felt like I was going the opposite way of the shot and where the ball was."
It wasn’t only Zelarayan’s disallowed goal that had the Crew (5-5-7, 22 points) believing they should have walked out of the game with three points and their first win against Philadelphia (7-2-9, 30 points) in five matches.
Santos had his penalty kick attempt saved in the first half of what was a pretty thorough performance of the Crew which required goalkeeper Eloy Room to make just one crucial save late in the game.
The Crew outshot the Union 13-4, but came away with only a point, extending their streak to five games without a loss.
Sticking with the same starting lineup used in a 2-1 win at Toronto on Wednesday, the Crew created the bulk of the scoring chances throughout the 90 minutes. Darlington Nagbe ripped a shot at the top of the box that was saved by Blake following a perfect, long diagonal pass from Zelarayan to Steven Moreira.
Just a minute later, Philadelphia attacking midfielder Daniel Gazdag tugged the jersey of Crew midfielder Sean Zawadzki, causing him to fall to the ground with the ball and giving the Crew a penalty kick.
Instead of Zelarayan getting the kick, it was Santos who stepped to the mark. He went to Blake’s right but didn’t get it close enough to the post, allowing Blake to get enough on it to keep it out of the net.
The Crew might have felt robbed of two more points. Porter certainly did, saying he would call Professional Referee Organization general manager Howard Webb because "I don't understand it. It's completely ridiculous."
But now with half of the season down and Hernandez joining the roster this coming week, it's not lost on the Crew that things are going in the right direction.
"For me, it was a goal," Zelarayan said. "And I don't understand why (it was disallowed), but we'll see now on the video. Unfortunately we draw the game, but I'm glad because we played well. We were much better than them. We deserved the win, but this is football and it can happen."
Man of the match: Goalkeeper Andre Blake, made five saves including a penalty.
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Lucas Zelarayan goal disallowed in Crew's scoreless draw vs. Union