After taking a half-season sojourn in central Florida with Orlando City SC, Justin Meram is back in Columbus where it all started.
Now, after making seven appearances since his mid-season return, Meram feels fully integrated back into the team, right on time ahead of the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs.
"My health is up there, my fitness is really high from where I was last year, definitely wasn’t at the same level when I was away with Orlando," Meram told MLSsoccer.com. "Back with this coaching staff, collectively we had a really good gameplan to get me fit and integrated with the squad as quick as possible. I'm feeling really confident on the field."
Almost assured of a playoff spot for the fourth time in the last five seasons, though only a point ahead of the Philadelphia Union in the race to finish in fourth place and thus host a Knockout Round game, Crew SC have set their sights on another successful postseason run. Meram believes his team has the ability to reach a second MLS Cup final in four years, and even win the club's second league title.
GOAL: Justin Meram puts Columbus ahead
"Absolutely," Meram said when asked if Columbus are good enough to win MLS Cup. "We're a team that can match up with anybody on any given weekend to go to battle, go to war. This club was built with very hungry and desirable players in one team. No superstars, just a bunch of individuals coming together for the greater good. That's what makes it such a close group on and off the field."
"The Lion of Mesopotamia" reckons his side still has improving to do, of course. While their defense is one of the best in the league, they've scored fewer goals than every team in the league but Colorado this season.
“I feel like the attack is creating a lot of good moments, but we just need to be a little sharper, in my opinion," Meram said. "We’re doing everything to get to the final third in a great way; for whatever reason, some of these chances aren’t going in. We're all playing with a lot of confidence and the bright side is we're creating chances.”
Crew SC continue to hum along in fourth place, not quite in the race for the Supporters' Shield and a level above the fight for a playoff qualification. That might be why they've flown under the radar – but that's just how Meram likes it.
"To some degree, we're always overlooked. ... We're a team that likes to the talking on the field and go to battle with whoever we play, it doesn't matter if we're home or on the road," Meram said. "We've showcased ourselves this year and in years past what we can be in the postseason."