The recent transfer of talented midfielder Lucas Zelarayán to Al Fateh in the Saudi Pro League, announced on Monday, marked the end of an exciting three-and-a-half-year era for Columbus Crew and its fans. While the Saudi club celebrates the acquisition of a skillful player, Zelarayán’s departure represents a significant loss for soccer in the United States and raises questions about the competitiveness of Major League Soccer (MLS).
During his time with Columbus Crew, Lucas Zelarayán proved to be a formidable player, with 38 goals and 30 assists in 97 regular-season matches. His impressive free-kick goals and long-range shots made him a standout in the team. Moreover, his contributions were crucial in securing two important titles for the club: the MLS Cup in 2020 and the Campeones Cup in 2021. His skills and talent earned him the MVP of the MLS Cup title and two MLS All-Star nominations.
Zelarayán’s departure will leave a significant void in the Columbus Crew roster, especially as he was one of the club’s three Designated Players. While there may be potential replacement options, such as Alexandru Matan, it is undeniable that replicating Zelarayán’s talent, experience, and game-changing ability will be difficult. Additionally, the MLS will miss the opportunity to retain a high-level player, which could impact the quality of the league and its attractiveness to other standout international players.
Risks of star players leaving for foreign leagues: Zelarayán’s transfer to the Saudi Pro League highlights a persistent issue for the MLS. Despite its growth and popularity, the North American league still struggles to keep its top talents on American soil. The departure of high-level players to foreign leagues, such as the Saudi Pro League, deprives the MLS of the chance to build truly competitive teams and attract global attention.
It is essential for the MLS and American clubs to reassess their recruitment policies and find ways to keep their talented players for longer periods. This includes exploring ways to increase player salaries and offering incentives to make the MLS an appealing option for international stars in their careers.
Lucas Zelarayán’s transfer to Al Fateh is a significant loss for Columbus Crew and a reflection on the challenges that the MLS faces in retaining its talents. The American league needs to rethink its strategies to retain high-level players and ensure that the MLS remains competitive on a global scale. While Columbus fans lament the departure of one of their greatest players, it remains to be hoped that the league and clubs learn from this experience and find ways to elevate the level of soccer in the United States.