Justin Meram - Orlando City - turns on the ball - close-up
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Stejskal: Justin Meram returns to Columbus Crew SC in trade with Orlando

TRANSFER TRACKER STATUS: Trade

Justin Meram is headed back to Columbus Crew SC.

Sources told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday night that Crew SC have agreed to send $750,000 in Targeted Allocation Money and a 2019 international slot to Orlando City in exchange for Meram, who will return to Columbus after being traded to Orlando just over six months earlier. The teams made the trade official on Friday morning.

FOX Soccer analyst Stu Holden reported earlier Thursday night that the two sides were very close to a deal:

"We are pleased to welcome Justin back to Crew SC," said Columbus Sporting Director and head coach Gregg Berhalter in a team statement after the trade was officialized. "He has proven to be one of the league's elite attacking players over the past few years as he helped establish our club's style of play and define our wide attacking midfield profile. He complements our current attacking corps and understands our environment, so we are confident he will adapt quickly and make our team better as we aim to qualify for the postseason. He has already left a distinct mark in our club's history and we look forward to the next chapter.”

Meram spent the first seven years of his career in Columbus before he was traded to Orlando on Jan. 29. 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.

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. Things didn’t go nearly as well for him in Orlando, with Meram registering just one goal and three assists in 17 league appearances with the club. He was left out of the 18 in Orlando’s last five matches across all competitions.

Life off the field wasn’t any easier. The Michigan-born Iraqi international was granted a three-day leave of absence by Orlando hours before they announced James O’Connor’s hiring as head coach 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 faced 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 in fourth place in the East heading into their Aug. 11 match against Houston, were having trouble replacing Meram’s production on the wing. Designated Player Pedro Santos has just one goal and five assists in 19 matches, while none of the club’s other wide midfielders – Cristian MartinezMike GrellaNiko Hansen and Luis Argudo – have been able to lock down a full-time starting role.

Orlando are currently tied with Toronto for 10th in the East, but trail TFC in points per game. The Lions have lost 12 of their last 13 matches heading into their match on Saturday against New England.

Crew SC and Orlando will meet once more this season on Oct. 21 in Florida in both clubs’ penultimate match of the campaign.

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