It's been a long time since the Columbus Crew's Justin Meram got to play forward.
The fourth-year Michigan product immediately transitioned into a winger role as a rookie, and has been largely used on the left wing for the Crew ever since. But first-year coach Gregg Berhalter has noticed Meram's scoring abilities, and gave him a chance to play forward when he came into the Disney Pro Soccer Classic final and notched a goal and an assist in 26 minutes.
“It's been since college; I miss [playing forward],” Meram told MLSsoccer.com “I miss being closer to goal, I miss getting those golden opportunities. It was nice that they tried me up there for a couple games in the preseason just to see if I could adapt. And I thought I did well, but obviously I've got to improve a lot more.”
Meram said that he and Berhalter had talked about the possibility, but that he wasn't sure when the chance might come.
“[Berhalter] said, 'look, you have the ability to shoot with both feet and you're able to wiggle out of a small space, so we're going to try you in different positions throughout the preseason,'” Meram said. “So I knew it was coming sometime, I just didn't know when.”
Berhalter says he knows that Meram can make a difference, but where can he see him fitting in?
“That's a good question,” Berhalter said. “He's flexible, so he can play in a number of spots and be effective.”
With plenty of competition on the wings from the likes of Bernardo Anor, Hector Jimenez and Dominic Oduro, and veteran Jairo Arrieta a likely starter up top, a starting place for Meram is far from guaranteed. And when asked whether his gut tells him he's a starter or not, Meram still couldn't answer.
“My gut tells me that I shouldn't be saying or I'll get in trouble,” he laughed. “I know I'll be right there in the mix. Whether I start or come off the bench, I'm going to be ready. And either way, my role is just as important.”
When he does get his chance, Meram said he wants to help the team regardless of his position. Though he couldn't deny that he loved getting the chance to play up top again.
“It felt pretty good, I'm not going to lie,” he said. “Especially when you go in and get some goals, your confidence goes up pretty high. But it's just preseason for me. That's over with now.
Now, the real test for me going into my fourth year is am I going to score goals, or am I going to shy away from these moments? So it's up to me.”