Justin Meram began his MLS career in 2011 with the Columbus Crew and played for that team until he was traded to Orlando City this past off-season. Against the Chicago Fire, the 29-year-old picked up his 200th appearance as an MLS player and I want to take the liberty of looking back at his accomplishments to date in Major League Soccer.
Meram played college soccer at Yavapai College and the University of Michigan before he was drafted by the Columbus Crew on Jan. 14, 2011 as the 15th overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft. He was the first player from Iraq to be drafted into MLS. An interesting note, Meram played with Sporting Arizona FC of the USASA (now a UPSL side) in 2007 before attending college.
The Iraqi international made his first MLS appearance on May 28, 2011 as he was subbed on late in a 3-3 draw with Chivas USA. In his rookie campaign, Meram made 17 appearances and started four games, tallying two assists and no goals, with his first MLS assist coming on June 4, 2011 against the New York Red Bulls.
As with most young players out of college, Meram’s first couple of seasons were pretty slow. He only scored five total goals and added four assists in his first three seasons, but his potential finally came to fruition in 2014. He was called up to the Iraq National Team in 2014, which may have boosted his confidence and it showed in his both his play and on the score sheet.
Meram appeared in 32 matches that year, and scored eight goals to go along with four assists — both career highs at the time. That 2014 season was a great year for him as he played well in MLS and attained his first international cap in the 2014 Gulf Cup of Nations. He also played in two playoff matches in 2014, scoring a goal and adding an assist despite losing to the New England Revolution 7-3 on aggregate.
In 2015, he made 31 appearances, starting 28 times. He scored six goals with five assists and again helped lead the Columbus Crew to the postseason. In the playoffs, he gave the Crew a goal to get his team to the MLS Cup final but fell short to the Portland Timbers in a 2-1 defeat.
In 2016, Meram flipped his play, racking up 13 assists, a career high. He started 31 games and played his most minutes in a regular season, with 2,605, picking up five goals throughout the season. It was only the third time that Meram missed the postseason with the Columbus Crew and he came back in 2017 with revenge on his mind.
In 2017, he appeared in all 34 MLS regular-season matches, starting 32. Meram ranked 16th in MLS with his career-high 13 goals on 61 shot attempts. He also chipped in seven assists, completing arguably his most productive season in MLS to date. Justin helped lead Columbus back to the postseason with a win over Atlanta United in the knockout game. The Crew made the Eastern Conference finals but fell short to eventual champion Toronto FC.
Now to the present. Last January, Meram was traded to Orlando City for $1.05 million in allocation money along with an international roster slot. The move was surprising, but Meram has been an integral part to what Orlando City has done so far this season. On the year, Meram has scored one goal with three assists through 12 appearances with the Lions. Meram’s start with Orlando City was a bit slow, and it took him a while to get that first goal, but he’s shown signs of what he can bring to the Lions, taking on defenders, providing service into the penalty area, and being willing to take shots from distance that can surprise goalkeepers.
Justin has been a special player throughout his MLS career. His journey from a college phenom at the University of Michigan to a seasoned veteran for the Columbus Crew and Orlando City has been exceptional. At 29, Meram still has a good number of years to add on to his MLS legacy and hopefully he brings much-needed success to Orlando City in the near future. I know Orlando City and its fans are rooting for him to take the team to the next level.