The current off-season has been a good one for Orlando City SC fans as the Lions were not shy in the transfer market, acquiring a handful of players to bolster the offensive system, such as Sacha Kljestan, Josué Colmán, and Stefano Pinho. The last piece of the attacking puzzle was Justin Meram.
Acquired from Columbus Crew SC in exchange for over $1 million in allocation money, the Iraq international winger has the tools to fill an important role in the team’s offense. According to General Manager Niki Budalic, that’s actually what he was brought to do.
“Justin is the ideal fit to round out our attacking group. He’s a proven contributor in our league who can both score and create goals,” Budalic said in a club statement. “His 1v1 ability and versatility to operate in various roles will add another dimension to our attack.”
“PLAY!” ⚽️#WelcomeMeram | #LionsInJax pic.twitter.com/2ItYmolmis— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) January 30, 2018
Meram’s profile was accurately described by the Lions GM as the 29-year-old winger can help the club on many different fronts.
Orlando City lacked a reliable scoring option outside of Cyle Larin in the last few years. The Canadian is now gone and Dom Dwyer is expected to become the team’s primary scorer, but don’t be surprised if Meram is right there with him. The new signee had a career year in goals in 2017, finding the back of the net 13 times for Crew SC. His finishing ability, from both outside or inside the box, is near the top in MLS as he netted almost half of his 28 shots on goal last season.
Meram’s 1v1 game has developed over the years and apparently reached a new high last season, when the winger, considered by many one of the most skilled players in MLS, ranked third in the entire league with 2.3 dribbles per game according to WhoScored.com. No Lion recorded more than 1.4 dribbles per game last year, which shows how Meram’s arrival can add another dimension to the team’s offense.
Playing as an inverted winger and making use of his dribbling ability, Meram frequently cuts inside and puts himself in a good position around or inside the box. But he doesn’t always look to finish, as creating for his teammates is also an important aspect of his game. In 2017, he was in more of a scoring mode in Columbus, but even then he amassed seven assists to rank second on the team, behind only Federico Higuaín. Having a player who can create from the wing will be something new to the Lions and definitely an asset Head Coach Jason Kreis should explore.
Meram has spent most of his time in Columbus playing as an inverted left winger and that’s most likely the role he will have in Orlando, but don’t be surprised if Kreis places him somewhere else. With his dribbling and finishing skills, Meram is able to play on the right flank as well and also in a more central position, either as a No. 10 or as a second forward. He did that during his time with Crew SC in numerous occasions with relative success.
One of the most underrated aspects of Meram’s game is definitely his reliability. Last year, he was one of only four Crew SC players to be on the field for each of the team’s 39 games. Combining the last three seasons, Meram missed only six games and started 91 of his 97 matches, logging heavy minutes in each of them. He is rarely injured or suspended and is also a relatively consistent player over the course of the season.
Meram left Columbus because he felt he had to prove himself somewhere else and just like that the Lions got an extremely motivated player. Meram feels his game is underappreciated in MLS, which he made clear last year by calling the All-Star Game a ‘celebrity game’ after he was snubbed, and he believes he can change that playing in Orlando. The winger lands in Florida with a chip on his shoulder and is hungrier than ever.