With five goals and two assists over his last five matches, Crew winger Justin Meram is the latest to break out under Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter's system of possession, quick ball movement and aggressive play from the flanks.
With his latest outburst, a two-goal performance against Chivas USA, Meram vaulted to second on the Black & Gold in scoring with seven tallies on the season to blow past his previous career high of four. In fact, with five goals over the last five matches, the former Michigan Wolverine equaled his total from his first three MLS seasons combined over a one-month span.
These types of breakouts are becoming all too common under Berhalter's regime. Ethan Finlay's explosion (six goals in 2014, zero prior) is a prototypical example, but it's happening in all facets of the attack. Bernardo Anor's five goals in 2014 are just one short of his three-year career total of six entering the campaign. In mainly a substitute's role, Aaron Schoenfeld is just one assist shy of duplicating his production from his first two MLS seasons in this year alone. Under Berhalter's tutelage, the Crew is getting balanced offense from all over the pitch, and Meram is just the latest example to have a particularly strong stretch.
"[Berhalter's system] definitely suits me, as you can tell. I'm much more comfortable out there," said Meram. "Previous years have been totally different. [In previous years, it was] staying on the touchline, sprinting 80 yards at a time. Whereas here you're centrally, you're playing in the pocket, you're playing combinations, you're getting fullbacks out wide. It's definitely been a bigger change. For me, I like being tucked in and being closer to goal."
The Crew wants him getting the ball closer to goal as well. Berhalter said that that aspect of Meram's game has been his strength this season.
"That's the key to him. He's a very good finisher, very good shooter," said the Crew boss. "When he puts himself in positions near the goal, he's dangerous and I think that was the main difference. Look at the first half [against Chivas USA], how often did he get the ball around their 18? Not often. When he did, it was running away from goal."
Tucking in from the left wing, getting the ball near goal and onto his right foot has been a key for Meram in goal-scoring this season. The winger has become known for his trademark, curling right-footed shot. Berhalter, however, knows that Meram's potential is just beginning to unfold.
"We still want to work with him in his movement off the ball; that can be improved, and then where and when he's dribbling, and when he's a possession player. I think those are key points to distinguish. When he's around the goal, there is full license to go one-v-one, and we want him to go one-v-one. You can have as good of a passing game as you want, but at some point you need to break down the opponent one-v-one."
Break down the opponent one-v-one is precisely what Meram has done in recent weeks. The Black & Gold hope it continues as they embark on a crucial concluding stretch to the season.