The face of the franchise isn’t going anywhere.
Attacking midfielder Lucas Zelarayan, 29, signed a contract extension with the Crew that will keep him with the club through 2024, with a club option in 2025, the club announced Thursday.
The Crew now have Zelarayan under contract through age 33.
Already under contract for the 2022 season, Zelarayan and the Crew began discussions about extending the Argentine’s contract before Zelarayan ended the 2021 season on a tear, scoring five goals and three assists in the final five games.
In 52 MLS appearances, Zelarayan has scored 20 goals and added 16 assists. This season, he led the Crew with 12 goals and seven assists in 2,626 minutes in 32 appearances (28 starts). He recently broke the club record for most free-kick goals in a season with four.
Zelarayan signed a three-year deal with a fourth-year option with the Crew prior to the 2020 season. According to the players’ union salary database, 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 was 28th in MLS in 2021.
Though his new salary is currently unknown, it’s likely much higher.
Crew president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said after the season that Zelarayan had "overperformed” in his first two seasons with the Crew, meaning it was time to align Zelarayan’s talent with a pay raise. The club also recognizes Zelarayan as a player who can, alone, bring more fans to Lower.com Field.
“It's important in the global game that the contracts reflect what they do for your club,” Bezbatchenko said last month. “He creates moments that are worth the price of admission, maybe more.”
Since the Crew acquired Zelarayan from Liga MX club Tigres UANL for an $8 million transfer fee, he has put together two productive seasons and has shown his ability to dominate the opposition.
While he has had a tendency to turn the ball over, Zelarayan is by far the Crew’s best chance creator and has the skill to pull off the incredible individual play that can change games.
Zelarayan was named MLS Newcomer of the Year in 2020 before he won MLS Cup MVP with two goals and an assist in the final against Seattle.
With their core in place, the Crew will look for Zelarayan to lead the team to contend for another MLS Cup in 2022.
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus Crew, Lucas Zelarayan agree to contract extension