Justin Meram wasn't gone for long but he's coming home.
After requesting a trade from Columbus Crew SC last offseason, Meram headed to Orlando City in exchange for $750,000 of Targeted Allocation Money, $300,000 of General Allocation Money and an international roster slot. Six months later, he has been traded back to Columbus for $750,000 TAM and an international roster slot.
It has been a whirlwind half-year filled with TAM, GAM and roster slots aplenty as Meram bounced from Columbus to Orlando and back. How will the trade impact the clubs?
How the trade impacts Orlando City
In sum, the Lions gave Crew SC $300,000 in GAM for what amounted to a six-month loan. They decided to move on, cut their losses and accepted a reasonable offer to repackage Meram back to Columbus. The optics aren't ideal but they could have risked more of a drop in value had they waited any longer.
Orlando won't have much to replace in terms of production as Meram had just one goal and three assists in 17 games, following a campaign in which he scored 13 goals and added seven assists. Furthermore, he hadn't been included in any of Orlando's last five matchday squads across all competitions. They had already started to move on.
In those five games, including the Lions' only win in their last 13 MLS matches, Chris Mueller started four times. Expect him to retain his place in the team if James O'Connor sticks with Orlando's customary 4-2-3-1 formation. The move heightens the attacking reliance on Sacha Kljestan and Dom Dwyer, though that was the plan when both were acquired. But scoring goals is not the problem for the Lions, even without Meram contributing as much as expected.
Orlando's fatal flaw has been conceding goals. Without Meram in the team, O'Connor has vacillated between two and three defensive midfielders, hoping to add stability to Orlando's league-worst defense. That development is something to keep an eye on for the final third of the season.
How the trade impacts Columbus
Just as for Orlando, the initial Meram trade didn't go to plan for Columbus. Designated Player Pedro Santos hasn't come close to replicating Meram's output, and nor have any of the team's other wingers: Cristian Martinez, Mike Grella, Niko Hansen and Luis Argudo.
The trade reunites Meram with Federico Higuain and a productive striker, now Gyasi Zardes instead of Ola Kamara, forming a solid attacking triumvirate. Gregg Berhalter will need Meram to rediscover form, as only Zardes and Higuain have scored more than one goal this season (and three of Higuain's four have been from the penalty spot). It'll be difficult to ride that level of dependence on Zardes and Higuain to the playoffs, even if Crew SC are currently sitting comfortably in fourth-place. Without more diversity in scoring, one injury or a Zardes scoring drought would jeopardize the good work the club has done in 2018.
Meram will likely walk straight back into the starting XI. Berhalter's system won't change and Meram wasn't brought back to make up the numbers and add depth. If he rediscovers the form that made him an All-Star in Columbus, they'll be well-positioned for another playoff run.