Orlando City recently opened discussions with Columbus Crew SC about trading winger Justin Meram back to the Black-and-Gold, sources have told MLSsoccer.com.
The sources said that Meram wants to move back to Crew SC, where he spent the first seven seasons of his career before he was traded to Orlando in January. The 29-year-old asked Columbus for a trade last winter, with Crew SC eventually dealing him to the Lions in exchange for $750,000 in Targeted Allocation Money, $300,000 in General Allocation Money and a 2019 international slot. The sources said that Orlando are looking for those same terms from Columbus in exchange for Meram, but they indicated that Crew SC are unwilling to pay that high of a price. The sources also said that Orlando has offered Meram to several other clubs around MLS.
Columbus defeated Orlando, 3-2, at MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday. Meram was not in the 18 for the match. It was the third straight game across all competitions that he did not make the 18.
Meram emerged as one of the most dangerous wingers in MLS over the past two seasons, totaling 18 goals and 20 assists in 64 regular season appearances for Crew SC in 2016 and 2017.
He’s had a much more difficult time in Orlando, who fired head coach Jason Kreis on June 15 with the team six games into a nine-game losing skid before hiring James O’Connor as his replacement on June 29. Meram has just one goal and three assists in 17 regular season matches for the Lions, hasn’t started a league game since June 23 and wasn’t in the 18 for Orlando’s 2-1 win against Toronto last weekend, their 1-0 US Open Cup quarterfinal loss at Philadelphia on Wednesday or their loss at Columbus on Saturday.
Things haven’t been any easier for him off the field. The Michigan-born Iraqi international was granted a three-day leave of absence by Orlando hours before they announced O’Connor’s hiring on June 29 due to “personal reasons.” The leave was granted just one day after Meram spoke extensively about some of the difficulties he’d had since joining the club.
“What I’ve dealt with, death threats or, comments of – you know we have Mason [Stajduhar] here who just came over cancer – but comments of, ‘you know, you look like a cancer patient,” Meram told ProSoccerUSA’s Jordan Culver last month, later clarifying that fans had wished death for him but none had explicitly threatened to take action. “These things… it’s so easy for these people to sit at home or on their phone or in the stands and make these comments about a player. But, you know, they want success.”
“This has probably been the hardest four months, maybe, of my life, my career,” he added later.
Columbus, who are currently in fourth in the East despite losing four of their last five games prior to Saturday’s win over Orlando, have had trouble finding a replacement for Meram. Designated PlayerPedro Santos has just a goal and four assists in 18 matches, while none of the club’s other wide midfielders – Cristian Martinez, Mike Grella, Niko Hansen and Luis Argudo – have been able to lock down a full-time starting role.
Both clubs declined to comment through their respective spokespersons. Meram can be traded until the secondary transfer window closes on Aug. 8.