clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Wingers Providing the Spark and Work Together To Improve

Justin Meram has been on a hot streak recently for the Crew, but the outside midfield has sparked the Black and Gold into the playoff race.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Just over a month ago, Justin Meram struck against Toronto FC with what many considered a fluke goal, as he sent a dangerous cross into the box that crept inside the back post. The next two weeks, he registered a goal and an assist in each game. After Meram and the team was shutout against the Montreal Impact, Meram came back with two goals to help in a 3-0 win over Chivas USA.

In the words of the classic video game, NBA Jam, "He's heating up," "He's on fire," and "Boomshakalaka!"

Meram is certainly red hot right now, taking his seasons total to a career high seven goals and four assists on the season.

"I think Justin's very good when he gets the ball around the goal," head coach Gregg Berhalter said of the winger. "That's the key to him. He's a very good finisher, very good shooter. When he puts himself in positions near the goal, he's dangerous.

"He's a guy that can score and those guys in this league are hard to come by."

But Meram doesn't want to be a one-trick pony and his team doesn't either.

"He's good at that [shot]," Berhalter said of the now familiar "meat hook" shot Meram has patented from the top corner of the box as he cuts in from the left side of the field.

"I would like movements behind the defense as well, which we don't get too often so I'd like a mix."

Meram doesn't have to go far for help on diversifying his game; his own teammates provide some of the answers.

The Columbus Crew have developed a luxury when it comes to their wide midfielders. Not only have they combined for 20 goals and 15 assists - 52% and 48% of the teams totals respectively - but each player offers something unique.

There has been plenty of discussion of Meram's one v. one ability and his shot from range as well as Ethan Finlay's speed to get in behind and stretch the defense, but their fellow wingers bring certain tendencies as well.

"[Bernardo Anor]'s a guy that can really come in the midfield. He's got a strong left foot," Finlay said of his position mate. "He's a guy who's really confident with the ball at his feet in the middle of the field. You'll see him, when he's on the left, come inside a little bit more.

[Hector Jimenez]'s a great two-way player, he goes both ways. He works hard offensively and defensively on the ball and technically he's very, very sharp."

Although Ben Speas' skills fit him better as a second forward in a similar mold to Federico Higuain, he has also done well on the wing, the position where his one goal on the season came from. His ability to pick out a pass and get in good positions adds to the diversity of the position.

It is not just Meram who can learn from his teammates and with this diversity provides plenty of teachers. Despite competition for starting roles and a spot on the game day 18-man roster, the players all want to work together to get better and help each other improve.

During training, the Crew have periods where they break apart and work in position groups in order to prepare for each week's opponent. According to Finlay, this is the time when the wingers talk to each other about aspects of the game they can improve.

There is also the benefit of watching and battling against each other every day on the practice field. The outside midfield position often pits the wingers against their opposite number in drills, so these players get a front row seat to watch what each other does well. This repetition only helps to teach and make each player better.

After struggling to score early in the season, the Black and Gold have exploded for 12 goals in their last five games. Over that stretch, Meram has five goals and two assists. Finlay registered a goal and an assist against LA and a helper verse the Dynamo. Anor and Jimenez came off the bench against Chivas to combine for a goal and an assist, with Jimenez providing the cross for Anor's header goal.

As the 2014 season has progressed the wingers have found their place in a new system and worked together to become comfortable.

Coincidence? I think not.