In his third season playing for the Columbus Crew, Justin Meram is finally developing into the outside midfielder his coach has wanted him to be.
The Michigan product had played striker for all of his life before being drafted 15th overall by the Crew in 2011. His chances were few early in his career, until he began finding playing time on the wing due to injuries. Since then, it has been a struggle to convert the forward into a “responsible” wing role, but Columbus Head Coach Robert Warzycha says that after a solid outing in the team’s 2-0 win over New York Saturday, things may be clicking for Meram.
“He did well, especially in the second half. He was intercepting passes and in the right position, and he was responsible on the field; that's what we've been asking of him,” Warzycha said. “Because he is an offensive player, for him it's easy to get the ball and dribble and shoot, but the other things he was lacking before were the defensive side of the game and being responsible. He showed us a lot of improvement in this game and hopefully he's going to continue.”
Meram said that he is focused on helping the team from whatever position he plays, but admits that playing on the wing has been more difficult than he expected.
“It's a spot that's very demanding, offensively and defensively. As [Warzycha] said at halftime of the last game, me and [Dominic Oduro] are going to be the most important players because when they're making those overlapping runs, we've got to cut them down. You've got to be in it for 90 minutes.”
Warzycha said that the process of turning Meram into a midfielder was a matter of convincing him of his on-field priorities, and that he seems to be understanding how to play the position.
“Maybe because he was a striker, trying to convince him to be more responsible on the field, that's why it took him so long to actually believe and do what we asked him to do,” he said. “But I think he's getting it finally, and if he plays like this he's going to be on the field all the time.”
While Meram also feels like he’s turning a corner in his development, he admits that it has been a difficult process, and he still sees himself as a more forward player.
“It's tough when you're a goal scorer and you've been playing forward your whole life and you're getting shots and getting those looks. When you're playing outside midfield, you're not getting many chances, but when you do you have to capitalize,” he said. “It's a bit of an adjustment; surely I'd love to be closer to the goal, but any chance I'm given to be on the field, I'm going to take full advantage of it.”