A new acquisition with established roots, midfielder Justin Meram returns to the fold with not only a sense of familiarity as the regular-season home stretch approaches, but as a proven piece of the Columbus Crew SC playing philosophy under the Gregg Berhalter era.
“I think the good thing about Justin rejoining us is that we know exactly what he can do,” Berhalter said. “I think the one thing is we see this as a good value and the second thing is we see this as a boost to performance. So, value and performance were keys going into this.”
Columbus acquired Meram, who ranks among the Club’s top players in several regular-season categories, on Aug. 3 from Orlando City SC in exchange for $750,000 in Targeted Allocation Money and an international roster slot for the 2019 MLS season.
With 37 goals and 33 assists in seven years with the Black & Gold – including 13 game-winners – Meram’s style became a pillar of Berhalter’s philosophy since his arrival as Sporting Director and Head Coach in 2014.
“He has a lot to do with how these wide attacking midfielders play the position,” Berhalter said. “He is a wide attacking midfielder inside that operates very well between the lines, and then he gets the ball and can run at defenses.”
Meram, who is only one of six Crew SC players to register at least 30 goals and 30 assists, made 32 starts on 34 regular-season appearances with the Black & Gold in 2017 en route to seven assists and a career-high 13 goals.
For Crew SC, Meram’s role permeates beyond the notion of familiarity, as the coaching staff and players – including Meram – expect to see the type of high-quality contributions they’re used to seeing from the Michigan native and Iraqi international.
“I think we are going to get a guy who is extremely motivated to show that he can perform at the levels that he has reached before in the past,” Berhalter said. “We are confident that he will be able to.”
With one goal and three assists in 14 starts for Orlando City, Meram’s success in Columbus, in his words, relates to more of a feeling and mutual understanding than any set-in-stone idea.
"I think here, there is a philosophy, tactics, and everything comes together when you get on that pitch,” Meram said. “We train with certain things day-in and day-out…and I think for myself playing under Gregg and the teammates that I have and living in Columbus, I think, overall, everything just works. I can’t pinpoint one thing."
With 11 regular-season matches remaining, including six against conference opponents, the eight-year veteran midfielder brings proven experience to a team that has made the playoffs in three of the last four years, including two trips to the Eastern Conference Championship and one to MLS Cup.
All things considered, Berhalter did comment that Meram’s participation in training on Friday felt oddly normal.
“He walks onto the field, you know it’s just like normal again…But it’s exciting,” Berhalter said. “Again, we see him as a good value and we see him as a good piece for performance.”
Columbus returns to regular-season play against the Houston Dynamo as part of Columbus Zoo Night on Saturday, Aug. 11 at MAPFRE Stadium, with kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m. ET.