Since returning to Columbus Crew SC after a nightmarish half-season at Orlando City, Justin Meram has featured twice off the bench for a combined 50 minutes.
In his second debut, against the Houston Dynamo two weekends ago, fans greeted his entrance with a tifo that read "Justin Meram: The Lion of Mesopotamia Returns" and he created a chance within his first 60 seconds back in a Crew SC kit.
But Meram was largely quiet against Atlanta this weekend, and his most memorable moment was of the ignominious variety, when he whiffed on an attempted shot. Despite his most recent cameo, his ability is undoubted; it's just about getting back on form.
Is it time for Meram to get his first start in his second stint in Ohio against the stumbling Chicago Fire on Thursday night (9pm ET | TV & streaming info)?
When Meram was re-acquired, his teammates spoke glowingly about him like he never left. Club captain Wil Trapp discussed how Meram's presence benefits the whole attack.
“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.”
Pedro Santos, who has started 10 consecutive games for the Crew, endorsed the Iraqi international, saying he will contribute goals and assists once again.
“We know he likes to play in the pocket like Gregg [Berhalter] 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.”
In 2017, Meram did bring many goals and assists to the team. He had a career year with 13 goals and 7 assists, to be exact. But the following offseason, with all of the uncertainty surrounding the Crew's future in Columbus, Meram wanted a change a scenery. Prior to the start of the 2018 campaign, Orlando City threw a Brinks Truck worth of allocated money to Crew for his services, and off to Florida he went.
Unfortunately for both player and club, Meram scored just once in 17 appearances as his time was marred with inconsistency and criticism.
“This has probably been the hardest four months, maybe, of my life, my career,” Meram told ProSoccerUSA’s Jordan Culver in June.
Now, back in familiar surroundings with fans who adore him, Meram will hope to rediscover 2017's career year. That won't happen from the bench, so the question remains: is it time for Meram to get his first start on Thursday night? Let us know what you think!