I first met Justin Meram right after he got drafted, his eagerness to be a part of the Columbus Crew roster was contagious. Right away, the rookie busted out his Columbus Crew scarf and wore it with pride.
Over the past few months I have gotten to know Justin better, and after sitting down with him for 1v.1, there are many positive characteristics that run tried and true through Meram, but two standouts are his loyalty and his energy.
When did you know you wanted to be a professional soccer player?
"Probably at five years old, but I quit soccer for a little bit. I lost sight, and wasn't very good when I was 15 or 16. I wasn't even making some club teams, then football took over and thats when I was All-State Kicking. When I graduated high school my family moved to Arizona, and I moved with them. I played at Yavapai, I was a walk on and being around the sport again made me realize how much I missed it. We won two national titles, I won national player of the year and thats when University of Michigan came around. It was a good experience. I needed that break, but thats when I knew that once again I wanted to be a professional soccer player."
Although your professional career has just started, you've had a long soccer career. What would you say has been a pivotal moment?
"When I went to Arizona, between quitting and all of the coaches not believing in me, it was the hardest thing because I grew up knowing this was what I wanted to do, but people tell you that you can't. I didn't have any scholarships and no one believed in me. Luckily, I had my family supporting me, and I just needed someone to give me a chance, thats why I keep in touch with my coaches."
Has your family been a big influence in your life?
"Definitely, to this day my bothers talk to me before and after almost every game, they tell me they love me, just go out and do you, it's a great support. It's tough because my dad isn't always around, he is traveling a lot."
Did your mom come to your games?
"Of course, I'm a momma's boy. I remember when I was growing up and she would wake up at 5 A.M. to take me to tournaments, wherever we were playing."
What has been the most rewarding part of your career?
"My senior year at Michigan, we took the team to the first Big Ten Championship and first ever Final Four."
What has been the most challenging part of your career?
"I think right now could be the most challenging part, it's a transition. Just like my junior year of college when I transferred to Michigan, it took me awhile to adjust, once I got my feet wet I was fine. Right now for sure, I'm trying to learn, get stronger, and when your name isn't called it means you need to work on something. "
What helps you set your standards?
"I'm just motivated to prove everyone wrong who doubted me. The summer going into my senior year two PDL (Premier Development League) teams cut me and that killed me. Going into my last year I thought I can't even play in semi pro how can I play in the MLS. Everyday I have a slogan 'follow your dreams' and I don't let anyone to tell me I can't do it, because obviously I have proven them wrong about somethings. One of my coaches at Michigan, Paul Snape has also played an important role in my life and soccer career."
If semi pro teams cut you, why didn't you quit?
"I don't think I can quit, I know my family wouldn't let me quit, that is why I am here today. I always told myself I was going to send one of these coaches that cut me a jersey to say thank you, because if it wasn't for them I don't think I would have been as driven. Over the summer, I didn't go home, I trained with the strength coaches, took classes, work on my speed, and strength. I think that's why I exploded my senior year because I got denied and had no where to play all summer."
What gives you strength?
"My three brothers and I have these crosses that we never take off, also my mom and my dad give me strength. My dad had a rough life, I always look at him and think if he did what he did, then I can do as much. He travels and works so hard for us."
Finish this sentence for me, Justin Meram is a great teammate because____?
" Because I always lighten the mood and whether my roommate or my teammate didn't play so well I always try to get their minds off of it and make them laugh. That is my main thing, I 'm always laughing, I want to have a good time and I'm a great dancer."
I expect to see some of those dance moves on the pitch…
"Whenever Leandre [Griffit] tells me I can't dance, I just show them a little something, it's great."
You should have been in a boy band.
"I can't sing."
In your mind what is success?
"Not failing, and to me success is raising a family, giving your kids things they want, but not too much. I want to raise my kids how I was raised and you have to work for everything, but enjoy it because it's well deserved."
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
"I see myself married, maybe a kid or two. If my body can handle it, I'll still be playing soccer. Traveling during the off season, I want to go to Spain really bad. Maybe living in Michigan, close to my parents. I want to continue to take classes and maybe be a soccer coach at University of Michigan."