SIRK’S NOTEBOOK: Meram’s Midweek Mission

Here’s how good it’s going for Justin Meram in 2017:

After getting subbed out in the first half of a 5-0 loss at Toronto and expressing befuddlement over his removal, he and Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter quickly talked it out, followed by Meram guaranteeing a win over Seattle, and then Meram scoring a goal and adding an assist in a 3-0 bounce-back triumph.

Even in the rare event that something goes wrong for Meram in 2017, it merely serves as a setup for an even better Meram story.

“I’m going to play at a high level to get a win, and we will get a win,” Meram told reporters on Monday.

On Wednesday, Meram played at a high level and his team got a win.

“I knew it was going to happen,” he said afterward. “I said it beforehand. I don’t think I’ve ever said that before, but I knew.”

*****

What Seattle’s defenders seemingly didn’t know is that Justin Meram can shoot from distance. (Apparently institutional memory of the J90+4 goal in 2014 is lacking.) In the 21st minute, Meram ran on to a Wil Trapp pass near the midfield stripe. Then he kept dribbling. And dribbling. And dribbling. And dribbling. Not in a nutmeg spin-o-rama sense, but in an acres of wide-open space sense. Once he got to about 20 yards out, he uncorked a low, hard shot that hit the side netting for his eighth goal of the season, tying his career high (On the last day of MAY). It staked Columbus to a 2-0 lead.

“The second goal was just a real back-breaker,” fellow winger Ethan Finlay said. “That’s just a ball that we pick up and it’s an inexperienced back line. Justin noticed that and nobody steps up. If you ask him, he’s probably still surprised that nobody stepped toward him. That’s a goal you score on Fridays at training during finishing drills for a Saturday game. That’s exactly the shot that he’ll do. There’s no defenders in that, but that’s probably how he felt tonight.”

When apprised of Finlay’s analysis, Meram said, “Yeah, except on Fridays, a lot of them go over the net.”

*****

Following a 2-1 win over Toronto FC on April 15, in which Meram scored his fourth goal of the season, including his second from inside the six-yard box, Josh Williams decided to give his teammate a good ribbing: “Are you going to score an actual goal once in a while? Or is it just tap-ins now?”

Since then, Meram scored three beauties in a game-winning hat-trick in Montreal and unleashed another long-range gem on Wednesday against Seattle. Clearly, this is all Williams’ doing.

“A lot of his success is based off me,” Williams confirmed.

Williams was joking about the recollection of the mid-April wisecracks, but later in the conversation, he did share some insight into a chat he had with his longtime friend.

“His goal tonight is something I’ve actually talked to him about,” Williams said. “He’s so dangerous on the dribble attacking guys, and he puts so much pressure on the defense while on the dribble that sometimes he passes the ball too early and lets them off the hook. I told him, ‘If you’re dribbling and guys are moving backward, keep attacking.’ He hasn’t really done that much because when you run at guys like that, passing lanes normally open up. He’s such an unselfish guy that he tries to make those passes, but I think he should be more selfish. He’s so dangerous and accurate with his shot, and you saw tonight what he can do.”

As evidence of Meram’s unselfish nature, rather than talk about his goal, he lamented that he wasn’t able to slip Finlay behind the defense for a goal. Also, when asked about getting into a goal scoring contest with Meram, Ola Kamara noted that such a contest would be bad for him because he is dependent on Meram’s passing to feed him goals, such as the assist on Wednesday.

Of course, Ola helps Meram too. As Finlay observed on the play that led to Meram’s goal, “The movement of Ola was really good on that goal too. That shouldn’t go unnoticed.”

It’s a team sport and Meram treats it as such. But Williams knows from the training ground that the team can benefit from Meram placing a little more emphasis on shooting.

 “A lot of credit for that is the fear the Justin puts into guys,” Williams said. “He’s just so quick and powerful, and I deal with it in practice every day. It sends you into panic mode, so I feel for those defenders out there. I’m glad I’m on his team so I don’t have to worry about it. It’s a credit to the work he has put in.”

*****

Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter, as one might expect, is also pleased to see Meram hitting the back of the net at the greatest rate of his career.

“One of the things we challenged Justin with in the offseason was scoring more goals,” Berhalter said. “We thought that he got into very good situations last year. We didn’t think he converted enough, and the emphasis was on how do we get you scoring more goals and taking more chances? And this year, he’s done that. I think he still has a ways to go this year. He’s not finished, and I hope to see more good things from him.”

And there’s a very good reason for that. In 2017, Columbus is 5-0-0 when Meram scores a goal and 6-2-1 when he registers a goal or an assist. Crew SC is 7-7-1 on the season.

“For this team to be successful,” Berhalter said, “Justin Meram has to be successful. The success of Justin is closely tied to team success.”

Heading into Wednesday night, when his team badly needed a lift after the most lopsided regular season loss in club history, Meram was on a mission and he guaranteed individual and team results. He and his teammates then delivered on both. Justin Meram’s success and Columbus Crew SC’s success were yet again in perfect alignment.

Questions? Comments? Eagerly anticipating when J9 sets his career high by scoring his J9th goal of the season? Feel free to write at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk
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