Leading MLS star follows Cristiano Ronaldo after pointed Lionel Messi dig

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Lucas Zelarayan starred for Colombus Crew, leading the club to the MLS Cup glory in 2020 (Image: Getty Images)
Lucas Zelarayan starred for Colombus Crew, leading the club to the MLS Cup glory in 2020 (Image: Getty Images)

Al-Fateh SC have signed All-Star Lucas Zelarayan after Cristiano Ronaldo claimed the Saudi Pro League was ‘better than the MLS’ once Lionel Messi joined Inter Miami.

Colombus Crew star Zelarayan is switching from the United States to Saudi Arabia despite enjoying a fine 2023 season. The Armenian scored 10 goals and added six assists in just 20 games for Colombus, but he has decided to head to the Middle East in an alarming blow to MLS.

Zelarayan - who departs the Crew as the franchise sits sixth in the Eastern Conference with 36 points after 23 matches - scored 42 goals and made 23 assists in 107 appearances with Colombus after joining from Tigres UANL in 2020. He led the club to win the MLS Cup in his debut season, where the Argentina-born midfielder was named MLS Cup MVP.

The 31-year-old was considered one of the most exciting players in MLS, as he has scored 18 goals from outside the box since 2019. It was one thing for Saudi Pro League clubs to use their financial might to sign big-name stars from Europe, but alarm bells will be ringing regarding after Zelarayan - an MVP candidate this season - followed Ronaldo to Saudi Arabia.

Ronaldo was one of the first big names to make the switch, when he left Manchester United in November 2022. He signed for Al-Nassr a month later, and he has been joined by a number of Europe’s biggest stars this summer.

Man Utd lose seven players and sign three as January transfer window closes eidexiqreiqtrinvMan Utd lose seven players and sign three as January transfer window closes

The 38-year-old has claimed he paved the way for fellow high-profile players to move to Saudi Arabia, while he took aim at MLS after seven-time Ballon d’Or winner and bitter rival Messi was announced as Inter Miami’s marquee signing. Ronaldo said: “The Saudi league is better than the MLS.”

His recent comments contrast his own opinion back in 2016, when the then-Real Madrid superstar was open to the idea of playing in MLS. It appear Ronaldo’s thoughts have been obscured by the lucrative nature of the Saudi league paired with Messi’s arrival in the United States.

Leading MLS star follows Cristiano Ronaldo after pointed Lionel Messi digCristiano Ronaldo scored 14 goals in 16 matches for Al Nassr after joining the club after the 2022 FIFA World Cup (AFP via Getty Images)

According to reports, Ronaldo rejected an offer from Sporting Kansas City in favor of Al Nassr’s lucrative offer. Meanwhile, Messi signed a long-term contract through the 2025 MLS season with Inter Miami after joining the club as a free agent.

The 36-year-old has since been joined by both Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets, two men he knows well from his illustrious time at Barcelona. The World Cup champion has enjoyed a fine start to life in Florida, scoring three times in two victorious games in the Leagues Cup.

As for Ronaldo, he has been joined by a number of Europe’s biggest stars in the Saudi Pro League in recent weeks. The likes of Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, Kalidou Koulibaly, Ruben Neves and Roberto Firmino are just a few from Europe to have made the move to Saudi Arabia - and the list is likely to grow.

Andrew Gamble

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