When Justin Meram came to Orlando City over the winter break, the $1.05 million trade was greeted positively in Orlando. The 29-year-old was coming off a career year in Columbus. After having tied Dom Dwyer down to an extension and also bringing in Sacha Kljestan, the Lions were expected to have a top quality attack in 2018.
Six months later, Orlando City has only scored 29 goals — third-worst in the Eastern Conference — and Meram has provided just one goal and three assists in MLS play, so it is no wonder that fans are disappointed. Simply put, the Iraqi international midfielder has not lived up to expectations. Fans have shown their frustrations with Meram, of which some reactions have gone too far.
But Orlando City is in a new era now. The Jason Kreis reign is over and James O’Connor now leads the team. With O’Connor, the team has a new look and a new sense of belief. The Lions are playing with more attacking power and players who have disappointed so far are starting to shine.
Sacha Klejstan, who has at times been as disappointing as Meram this season, has been one of the best players under O’Connor — scoring two goals and recording an assist in three games. Stéfano Pinho finally got back on the score sheet. New signing Shane O’Neill, who was not on the team with Kreis, has been arguably the best defender for Orlando the past two games. And Earl Edwards Jr., who was given his first MLS starts of the season, forced Joe Bendik to a bench role.
If all of these players can succeed under new leadership, Meram absolutely can as well. But there is one caveat to this. If Meram does not want to be here, then he needs to leave. He has the chance to start new and prove himself to fans and his teammates but this can only happen if he has the heart and desire to stay in Orlando.
There have been transfer rumors popping up the past few days, especially with him not making the 18 in three straight games. However, it would benefit Orlando to keep him and give the attacker another chance.
From a financial standpoint, Meram being traded will be a big loss. It is highly unlikely that Orlando will get back the $1.05 million in allocation money that the club spent to bring him in. In fact, I’d say it might get even less than half of that back, so it is worth keeping him a little longer and seeing if he could excel under the new coach.
O’Connor has brought a new attacking mindset to Orlando. Whereas the Lions had scored just six goals during their nine-game losing streak, under O’Connor the team has improved its off-the-ball movement, passing, and speed of play. This has resulted in goals in every MLS game he has coached and snapped the losing skid.
Without Meram, the Lions are also stretched thin right now. Kljestan and Chris Mueller have yet to get a substantial rest, starting in every game under O’Connor. Players like Pinho and Dillon Powers, who have been ineffective, have been forced into action and Mohamed El-Munir has even seen time in the midfield.
It is strange that Meram has not been in the 18 for these past few games as he could certainly have provided something to benefit Orlando. It is a new time in Orlando, the losing streak was snapped, and O’Connor can help bring Meram back to his goal-scoring ways. The only question that needs to be asked is if he wants to be here.