Editorial (July 20, 2018) — Looking back on it, the 2011 Columbus Crew SC season stands out for a variety of reasons.
It remains the last time the club competed in the CONCACAF Champions League. And prior to them hiring Gregg Berhalter as manager, it marked the last time Columbus made the MLS Cup playoffs.
In January of that year, the club took three players in the MLS SuperDraft. The first of those picks was Justin Meram, selected 15th overall. Though all three, including Meram, Cole Grossman, and Bernardo Anor, saw the field for the Black and Gold in varying capacities during their time with the club, Meram made by far the biggest impact.
The stats speak for themselves. Before leaving for Orlando City SC in the off-season, Meram solidified his status as one of Crew SC’s greatest ever players. He finished top 10 all-time in a multitude of club statistics as is evident below.
Shots on target: fifth
Game-winning goals: third
Justin Meram Returns to Columbus With Turmoil Engulfing Both His Current and Former Club
This Saturday, Meram faces off against his former club for the first time since moving to central Florida. It comes at a time when both teams are facing adversity in distinctly unique forms. Orlando City remains one of the more dysfunctional clubs in MLS. Current manager James O’Connor is the fourth at the team since the Lions joined the league in 2015 and they still have yet to make the playoffs. Meanwhile, the situation Anthony Precourt has created in Columbus is among the most disgraceful in the history of American sports.
The Lion of Mesopotamia’s Rough Start With the Lions
Meram’s first year in Orlando certainly hasn’t gone to plan. In his 17 appearances and 14 starts, the Iraqi international has a paltry one goal and three assists. His 318 minutes per goal/assist is significantly up from his final two seasons in Columbus when he was registering a goal or assist every 140 minutes.
From the standpoint of Meram’s team as a whole, it’s been a volatile season. Things started promising with the Lions boasting a 6-2-1 record on May 6. But after that, they proceeded to lose their next nine games which led to the team parting ways with Jason Kreis. That protracted run of unfavorable results, combined with some rather offensive comments from fans directed at Meram, took its toll.
It led to the club granting Meram a brief leave of absence from the club in late June. One of the reasons for him doing so became evident in a story from ProSoccerUSA.com regarding the news. Meram told the outlet that vitriolic fan abuse over his poor form played a role. That becomes glaringly evident when reading the following quote from the article.
“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 said Thursday, later clarifying fans wished death upon him but stopped short of threatening to take action.
Such unacceptable behavior isn’t reflective of the supporters as a whole. But those few bad apples who decide to berate professional athletes in this manner are in direct contravention of MLS’ “Don’t Cross the Line” initiative. It speaks to a larger issue regarding fan conduct in today’s sporting world. Whether it’s direct abuse at games or online harassment via social media, professional athletes have to deal with a lot from people who are incapable of working as hard as them. But such a topic is beyond the scope of this article.
Meram and the Save the Crew Movement
Tangential as a small number of unruly fans may appear, it is part and parcel of the turmoil Orlando City is dealing with in 2018. The club’s opponent this weekend, whose recent history Meram is a huge part of, has its own fan-related issue. But it doesn’t have to do with verbal abuse directed at players. It involves a slumlord owner royally screwing over fans in Columbus by engineering a sickening betrayal replete with a toxic concoction of false narratives all the while letting the league’s first soccer-specific stadium fall into disrepair.
Meram is on record voicing his displeasure at these developments. Speaking to ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle a few days after officially getting traded to Orlando, he made it pretty clear that the situation involving the club’s future in Columbus played a part in his desire for a change of scenery.
“It had an impact on my decision. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t,” Meram told Carlisle. “Let’s be real, the Columbus Crew is the team that drafted me in 2011 and gave me a chance to fulfill my dream. I have so much love for that city and for that club and for those fans. So for me, hearing the news is definitely not easy, and I hope the team stays, and I hope it all works out for them.”
The Special Nature of Meram’s Time in Columbus
Columbus is generally a “behind enemy lines” kind of place for University of Michigan alums like Meram. That much is certain given the intensity of the rivalry between the Wolverines and Ohio State that plays out most fervently on the college football gridiron. But during his seven years with the Black and Gold, Meram endeared himself to Crew SC fans who embraced him as one of their favored sons.
Few players in club history boast Meram’s body of work. His exploits in 2015 laid the groundwork for an MLS Cup appearance. Two years later, he helped spearhead another playoff run that almost resulted in the Black and Gold playing for a title again. That in addition to his candid remarks in support of #SaveTheCrew means that Meram deserves a friendly reception in his return to Ohio’s capital city while at the same time hoping his new team finishes the game with an unfriendly result.