OBETZ, Ohio – Newly reacquired winger Justin Meram can only play on one side of the field at a time for Columbus Crew SC. But his coach and teammates believe Meram’s addition can have positive effects for the entire Columbus attack.
A theme of the Crew SC season has been finding offense despite a lack of production from their secondary attackers.
While Gyasi Zardes continues to have a career season, no Columbus player other than the striker and playmaker Federico Higuain has scored more than one goal this season.
It’s a trend that needed to change, and head coach Gregg Berhalter said last week that he thinks bringing Meram back from Orlando City SC can help give his team some much-needed offensive help.
“The good thing about Justin rejoining us is that we know exactly what he can do, and I think the adaptation time is going to be virtually nothing,” he said. “As soon as he gets fit, as soon as he gets into game shape, we know how he can help us and how he can help this group create chances. So I think that was an important factor. We see this as a good value, and we see this as a boost to performance.”
Pedro Santos has spent plenty of time on the left wing for Columbus this season. And while he’s contributed five assists in 2018, his single goal in MLS play has been something of a disappointment for the Designated Player.
Santos played with Meram last season, and said the whole offense “did a great job when we played together.” He said he thinks Meram’s return can spark the offense.
“We know he likes to play in the pocket like Gregg likes to, and we know he can score goals, which is important for us because we need to score goals,” Santos said. “I think he’s going to bring goals and more assists for the team.”
Meram and Santos are just two of several players competing for starts on the wing for Columbus. The likes of Niko Hansen, Cristian Martinez, Luis Argudo, Mike Grella, Eduardo Sosa and Edward Opoku have all seen time there this season.
And while he’s likely penciled in as the right winger across from Meram, Santos said he’s happy to have more competition for playing time.
“Quality [players] always bring motivation for all the players,” he said. “We need to work, we need to improve. This is good for everybody. With one more wing, we have five or six wingers. Adding one more [means] every winger needs to work hard to prove to Gregg he deserves to play. This is better for the team.”
Captain Wil Trapp said that whoever plays across from Meram, along with the rest of the attack, will benefit from having the playmaker back.
“What we’ve seen from Justin over the past five or six years is his ability to lure defenses to his side and really cause problems for them,” Trapp said. “That frees up other players. … Justin is able to draw players his way and open up things for them.”
Berhalter said he isn’t sure when Meram will be ready to play a full 90 minutes. But when the time comes, the coach said he’s expecting Meram to lift the team.
“We know he’s going to make an impact with our group,” he said. “The effect that will have on the other wingers and the forwards, we don’t know right now. But we expect it’s going to be a positive.”