It was announced yesterday that Columbus Crew midfielder Justin Meram has become the first MLS player to earn a call-up with the Iraq National Team for the 2014 Gulf Cup of Nations.
"This is something I've waited for my whole life and to finally get a call-up is amazing and I can't thank enough of my family and friends and my teammates and everyone with the Crew," Meram said on Monday.
Meram was born in Shelby Township, Michigan, but is the son of two Iraqi-born parents. He is dual citizen of both Iraq and the United States, but says playing for Iraq was always his dream.
"The number one focus was the Iraq national team," he stated.
"It's always been my focus. I have my family come from back home and that's just my culture, I was born and raised with it. That was my dream and that was a goal I always wanted. I'm just so happy that I'm a part of it now."
The fourth-year attacker is coming off his best season as a professional after being taken with the 15th overall selection of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft by the Crew. Meram set career highs in appearances (32), starts (19), minutes (1,683), goals (eight), and assists (four). Under new head coach Gregg Berhalter, Meram flourished, which has certainly helped him towards this call-up.
"Here I am, under Gregg Berhalter's system, my talents have really come out and I'm just playing the best soccer that I have and as a team we are," Meram explained. "And I think when a team's doing well and a team's playing great, having a great season, I think players standout too. I was just so happy that the call-up came now and with great form. I want to take what we did with the Crew and take it to the international level."
Since being drafted, Meram has played a variety of positions for Columbus, but excelled this year as an outside midfielder with a bit of a license to roam. He is not sure how he will fit in the Iraqi system, but is excited to go work hard and find out.
"I talked to guys on the team, I know about the coach and the system they play," he said.
"It's going to be one of those things where I'm going to have to get acclimated with the team and train and see what the best position for me will be under the system with the national team. They play a 4-4-2 so whether it be a second forward or playing the outside mid. It's just one of those. I'm excited to get there and meet everybody and just train and be around the guys and get to know everybody and go from there."
The group stage of the tournament will see Iraq play Kuwait on November 14, Oman on November 17, and United Arab Emirates on November 20. Meram left from Boston yesterday after the Crew were eliminated from the MLS Playoffs by the New England Revolution on Sunday.