OBETZ, Ohio—Justin Meram has been back with Columbus Crew SC for less than three months, but the setting in Columbus has already improved the winger’s happiness and form.
Meram spent the first five months of the season with Orlando City SC after he requested a trade away from Columbus in the offseason. In Orlando, he scored just 1 goal and added 3 assists in 17 appearances, received threats from fans and told Pro Soccer USA in June that he was in the midst of “probably … the hardest four months, maybe, of my life.”
But in August, Gregg Berhalter brought Meram back to Columbus, the only place he’d played professionally before Orlando, and he’ll play his former team for the first time Sunday.
And after a few months back, he’s trying to see the positives from his experience.
“Some negative things that happened when I was there made me mentally stronger, so that was a positive,” he said. “[Learning] how to handle situations better – that was positive. I wasn’t perfect; I can be a man about it. I could have done things a little better.”
Meram said he now realizes it wasn’t a good idea to celebrate with his fingers in his ears and his eyes closed, a reference to blocking out fan criticism. He liked a picture from his friend and Columbus teammate Wil Trapp on Instagram that made fans mad, too.
But that ability to understand fan reaction and think about his actions is another positive, and Meram said he respects the fanbase that Orlando has created.
“The fans kind of blow things up, but they’re passionate, and I respect their passion,” he said. “To have a fan base when results aren’t going well and they’re still out there every game, I give them credit…and I’m thankful for a lot of them who were supporting me even when I was in a slump.”
Moving Meram didn’t solve many problems for Orlando, who have had a disappointing season by any measure. What wasn’t working? Meram said Orlando has talent, but not the right chemistry.
“There’s a lot of quality in that locker room, and they spent a lot of money to bring in a lot of quality,” he said. “But just putting quality on the field isn’t going to win you games. You have to have a collectiveness, a family mindset. I think that might have been lacking a bit.”
That Meram comment was particularly gratifying for Berhalter to hear. The Crew SC boss has always preached a player-first approach, and was happy to hear that Meram appreciates what he’s built in Columbus.
“Culture is just a word until you bring it to life, and we work really hard on that,” Berhalter said. “We’ve talked for years about who we are as a club and what we represent as a club. It’s nice to see it be backed up by players, especially players who go away and experience different cultures and say, ‘This means something.’”
Meram said he “has a lot of respect” for the Orlando players and coaches he’ll be facing Sunday, and doesn’t “have any bad beef” with the organization. But will he celebrate if he scores?
“We’ll see when the time comes, I guess,” he said with a smirk.