Four Columbus Crew Players Earn Rank of Finalist in MLS Awards
Black & Gold’s four individual finalists rank tied for second-most in MLS this year after Crew completes the season with the second-highest points-per-game record in Club history
In conjunction with Major League Soccer (MLS), Columbus Crew SC today announced that defenders Milton Valenzuela and Jonathan Mensah, midfielder Lucas Zelarayan, and goalkeeper Eloy Room have been named finalists for prominent Major League Soccer full-season awards.
Crew SC’s four finalists rank tied for second-most in MLS this year with LAFC, behind only Supporters’ Shield winners the Philadelphia Union (five finalists). The quartet of Crew players are finalists for the following awards. Comeback Player of the Year (Valenzuela); Defender of the Year (Mensah); Newcomer of the Year (Zelarayan); and Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year (Room).
In 2020, Crew SC finished the regular season in third place in the Eastern Conference with a points per game total of 1.78 – the second-highest points per game total in Club history behind only its MLS Cup-winning 2008 total of 1.9 points. Additionally, the Crew finished in fourth place in the Supporters’ Shield standings, marking the second time in the last decade that the Black & Gold has finished with a top four spot in Supporters’ Shield standings.
The winners of the awards are expected to be announced on the following dates: MLS Comeback Player of the Year on Thursday, November 12; MLS Newcomer of the Year on Friday, November 13; Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year on Monday, November 16; and MLS Defender of the Year on Wednesday, November 18. The MLS Awards announcement schedule is subject to change.
For a full list of all MLS full-season awards and their respective finalists, visit MLSsoccer.com. The finalists earned the most votes in polling of three voting groups: current MLS players; MLS clubs (Coaches, Technical Directors/General Managers); and select media members representing local and national outlets who consistently covered the 2020 MLS regular season.
Valenzuela suffered an injury during the 2019 pre-season which forced him to undergo ACL reconstruction on his right knee on February 7.
As a result of his injury, Valenzuela had to miss out the entirety of the 2019 season, just a year after making his MLS debut and being among the top fullbacks in the League. In 2020, the 22-year-old made a superb return to form, finishing the regular season with 17 appearances (17 starts) while providing three assists, including two game-winning assists – more assists than any other Crew defender this season.
The MLS Comeback Player of the Year award has been previously won once by a Crew SC player, with Gyasi Zardes winning it in 2018.
Mensah is in his fourth season with the Crew, his first season as team captain. A two-time World Cup veteran, the Ghanaian defender played every minute of the 2020 MLS regular season for Crew SC while leading the League in blocks (30), passes (1473) and clearances (114). Mensah helped the Crew post nine clean sheets in regular-season action – tied for most by an MLS team this season – while being named to MLSsoccer.com’s Team of the Week on three occasions, more than any other Black & Gold defender this season.
The MLS Defender of the Year award has been previously won on three occasions by a Crew player, as Robin Frasier won it in 2004 and Chad Marshall won it in back-to-back years in 2008 and 2009.
Currently in his first season with Crew SC after being acquired in the off-season for a Club-record transfer fee, Zelarayan made 16 regular-season appearances (12 starts) in 2020. Despite missing part of the season as a result of injuries, the Argentine registered six goals (three game-winning goals) and four assists (two game-winning assists) for the Black & Gold. Additionally, Zelarayan led the Club in chances created per 90 minutes (2.7) and completed dribbles (40) while being named to MLSsoccer.com’s Team of the Week on five occasions. The MLS Newcomer of the Year award has been previously won once by a Crew SC player, with Federico Higuain taking the award in 2012.
This season, Room made 17 regular-season appearances (all starts), making 41 saves while posting seven shutouts. Notably, the goalkeeper registered a 473-minute shutout streak spanning from March 7 to September 12, making it the third-best shutout streak in Crew SC history. Room was pivotal in helping the Black & Gold have one of the best defensive records in MLS regular-season action, with the Club tying for most clean sheets (nine) while also giving up the second-fewest goals (21). The Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award has been previously won twice by a Crew SC player, with Brad Friedel winning it in 1997 and Zack Steffen earning the honor in 2018.