Justin Meram drawing interest from clubs abroad, but could still return to Columbus Crew SC

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Like 20 other players on their roster, Columbus Crew SC announced that the club had picked up the option for left winger Justin Meram Monday, presumably keeping Meram in Columbus for another season.

But Meram’s future is far from guaranteed with Crew SC, and his agent says the Iraqi international is attracting interest from abroad and elsewhere in MLS.

His representative Mike Gartlan, president of COR Sports Management Group, said Meram isn’t actively trying to leave Columbus, but admitted the interest is there.

“There’s definitely interest in Justin from other places,” Gartlan said. “He’s been happy and he’s happy in Columbus. Is there anything concrete? No. But there’s been some interest in him and he’s had another good season, so we’ll see.”

While no move is “impending or for sure going on right now,” Meram could have a broad range of suitors.

“Continental Europe, there’s some from teams in the Middle East,” Gartlan said. “It’s pretty wide-open right now. …There’s no specific place.”

With Crew SC, Meram scored six goals and added five assists in 2015 in 28 starts. He scored his first career goal with the Iraq national team in September and has grown in popularity in the Middle East thanks to national team exposure.

That exposure has helped attract interest, but Gartlan said the success of Crew SC has had a lot to do with Meram’s demand as well.

“I think that helps, but I think also being in a place where he’s comfortable and settled has been a big part of it,” he said. “Columbus has done a pretty good job of putting all the players in a position to be successful, and I think Justin has benefited from that as well.”

At Crew SC’s final media availability of 2015, Meram was less-than-definitive when asked whether he expected to return to Crew SC in 2016.

“I don’t know,” he said with a smile. “We’ll see.”

Columbus head coach Gregg Berhalter admitted that interest from overseas could be expected after another productive season in Columbus.

“While no one has specifically reached out to us about Justin, I would not be surprised to hear of interest from outside the U.S. after several international call-ups and the strong season he had with us that led us to pick-up his 2016 option in Columbus," Berhalter said. "We’re proud of the development our players gain during their time with Crew SC and we’re happy to have Justin under contract here.”

And while Meram may have options, Gartlan emphasized that he’s not set on leaving Columbus.

“In the end, it’s up to Justin what he wants to do with Columbus,” Gartlan said. “There’s nothing impending or for sure going on right now. … Any professional player, any professional coach, anyone has got to be open to listen. But that doesn’t mean they’re scrambling to get out the door.”