Columbus Crew forward Justin Meram hasn’t scored since his three-game goal streak ended May 23 at Seattle. But ironically, he has maintained his starting role recently because he's been playing better.
That's what head coach Robert Warzycha says about his second-year man out of Michigan.
“He is doing more and more of what this team needs – being in the right spot defending, being responsible,” Warzycha said. “That’s what he does.”
Meram knows he was drafted to score, but his play without the ball on the left side of the midfield has kept him in the lineup.
“Defensively, I’ve felt like I’ve done a pretty good job,” he said.
Warzycha also likes that Meram has the ability to create goals out of slim opportunities as he did for his first career goal May 12 against FC Dallas, a ripper from 35 yards, and his deft strike from a bad angle a week later at San Jose. That was followed by a headed goal against Seattle that led to an important road victory.
“You hope he is going to do something special in the game,” Warzycha said. "That’s why he is playing."
Meram has had plenty of tries at a fourth goal but hasn’t been able to convert.
“I’m right there knocking on the door, maybe the luck hasn’t gone my way,” he said. “I put more pressure on myself than anyone knows. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. That’s how I’ve always been my whole life. I need to be tremendously productive and creating chances.”
Midfielder Chris Birchall sees Meram’s potential.
“When he does attack, he is a real problem,” Birchall said. “That’s what we’re trying to do within the team – trying to get him to go at defenders and stay out wide where he can be a threat. He’s learning and becoming a better player.”
Meram admits it wasn’t easy sitting earlier when he was coming off a preseason injury. He didn’t debut until the eighth game and his first start was two matches later vs. Dallas.
“We’re trying to give him confidence,” Birchall said. “He’s a young player and like the rest of us, but to a more extent, he can have one great training session and get frustrated the next day because he’s not the same player.”
Meram’s starting spot is up for challenge every week and will be even more so when new Designated Player Federico Higuaín becomes eligible in a few weeks and a shakeup at forward and midfield is expected.
Warzycha sees that as a positive move for Meram.
“He can learn from [Higuaín],” the coach said. “He’s going to make Justin’s game even easier because maybe he’s going to set up him and bring him into the game more.”