COLUMBUS - While Federico Higuain has rightly been spotlighted during the Crew’s four-game winning streak, consider for a second an unsung hero in forward Justin Meram.
It was Meram (above), a second-half substitute, who took a leading ball from Higuain and set up Eddie Gaven for the stoppage time winner Wednesday against Philadelphia.
And while it was Higuain’s exquisite free kick Saturday that Chad Marshall headed in the 80th minute to draw even with Montreal, the dead ball was a result of Meram drawing a foul by Lamar Neagle 16 minutes after entering the match.
Meram was in position for a header off the Higuain restart when Marshall, in the defender’s word, “bulldozed” his teammate.
“I saw the ball,” Meram told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “I thought I was going to get a flick but I kind of got trampled.”
Marshall got the goal while Meram went headfirst into the turf then had it smashed deeper when Montreal defender Nelson Rivas inadvertently fell on him.
Meram sported a swollen nose yet nearly got the winner in the 90th minute but couldn’t bend an open shot around goalkeeper Troy Perkins.
The Crew (12-8-6) eventually pulled out a 2-1 victory when another reserve, Emilio Rentería, headed a service by Higuain in the 93rd minute.
“If I don’t score or get an assist and we win, all smiles here,” he said. “My mindset has changed in that aspect. This is the second half of my second year [in MLS] and I kind of like it like that. When you’re a team player and contributing anyway possible, you’re going to play more.”
In addition to Meram’s and Rentería’s exploits off the bench, Tony Tchani entered deep into the match vs. New England on Aug. 25 and assisted the 86th-minute decider by Jairo Arrieta.
All the late dramatics are happening despite playing six times between Aug. 15 and Saturday.
“We seem to find that last gear and keep on pushing, even though the legs might have been heavy,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said following the Montreal match.
Also not to be forgotten among the role players who’ve made an impact recently are midfielder Cole Grossman, who scored his first goal against Houston on Aug. 19, and rookie goalkeeper Mat Lampson’s two wins in relief when Andy Gruenebaum was injured.