J9 for MVP? Matured Justin Meram continues hot start for Crew SC

COLUMBUS, Ohio – If it’s possible to fly under the radar while ranking near the top of the league in both goals and assists, Justin Meram is doing just that.

The Columbus Crew SC winger has followed up a career year in 2016 with a blistering start to the young season, notching four goals (one shy of his total last season) and adding two assists in just seven matches.

But Meram, now in his seventh MLS season, said he’s not even aware of those numbers anymore. The win column is the only statistic he’s paying attention to.

“You might think I’m lying, but I really try not to focus on that,” he said. “I think in years past, I focused on that so much and there was a lot of pressure. Now, the maturity level is there and I want to be successful as a group.”

Crew SC boss Gregg Berhalter said Meram has “huge upside,” and said he doesn’t think the 28-year-old  is “finished growing.”

Berhalter is pushing his talented winger to be even better, and despite Meram’s goal in the club’s 2-1 win over Toronto FC Saturday, the coach wanted more. He said Meram “lacked consistency” in the win against the Reds.

“He can hurt teams, but I don’t think it was a complete game by him,” Berhalter said. “He has better. He has an unbelievable skill set, and you couple that with his mentality and work rate and physicality and he’s a special player."

Meram agreed.

While he may have been happy with a goal in the past, Meram has said he’s much more focused on the non-statistical portions of his game, and sees the same room for improvement.

“I was a little disappointed in myself,” he said. “My positioning in the first half wasn’t great…and I’ve still got to learn the game better and get smarter and put myself in better positions to succeed. I’m just continuing to grow each and every week, trying to stay healthy and help the group.”

Still, Berhalter expects Meram’s profile to continue to rise. And while he said Meram is well-regarded around the league, the Columbus head coach expects even more accolades.

“I think people are taking notice of him; it’s hard not to, [given] what he’s been doing,” he said. “When I talk to coaches, they can’t speak highly enough of him. I think he’ll start to get more recognition from the public because he’s an outstanding player.”

If Meram’s hot start continues, he could even force his way into the MLS MVP conversation. But will the matured and subdued playmaker head up his own campaign for the award?

“No, not me,” Meram said with a laugh.

Luckily he’ll have some help from a longtime friend and teammate.

“I am,” a smiling Josh Williams said as he left the locker room. “J9 for MVP.”