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Justin Meram continues to elevate his game to new levels

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The Crew SC winger is off to another flying start to the season.

MLS: Toronto FC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

There was a point in time when Justin Meram would have campaigned for himself for Major League Soccer’s Most Valuable Player award.

Despite an inconsistent first several years in his career with Columbus Crew SC, the winger never lacked for confidence. Now, as a more reliable player in the Black & gold offense, Meram doesn’t care about the individual accolades.

“Honestly, you might think I’m lying but I really just try not to focus on that,” Meram said following Saturday’s 2-1 win over Toronto FC. “I think years past I’ve focused so much and there’s a lot of pressure. And now the maturity level’s there and I just want to be successful as a group and when I score, it’s a bonus. An assist, it’s a bonus. Overall, when you win, that’s the most gratifying.”

To begin the season, Meram referred to himself as the “old man” on the roster despite only being 28 years old. He is Crew SC’s longest tenured player and is tied with Brian McBride for sixth on the Black & Gold all-time appearance list at 161.

With age and experience comes maturity and Meram has matured. He’s also improved.

Since 2014, Meram has set personal bests in games played (33), starts (31), goals (8) and assists (13) in a season. He was the team’s MVP a year ago and, although he won’t campaign for it, he’s off to at least an all-star level start to 2017 with four goals and two assists through seven matches.

While he’s playing at the highest level of his career to start the season, Columbus head coach Gregg Berhalter sees more from Meram.

“Justin is a guy that has a huge upside and, to be honest, I don’t think he’s finished growing,” he said.

“He has an unbelievable skill set and then you couple that with his mentality and his work rate and his physicality and he’s a special player.”

While Meram is happy with his start to the season, he agrees with his head coach that he can continue learn the game, play smarter and grow as a player. Despite scoring yet again in the most recent home win over TFC, the winger wasn’t pleased with his performance.

“I was a little disappointed in myself,” he said on Saturday. “My positioning the first half wasn’t great. Somethings maybe you guys don’t see, but we look as a group.”

At one point, a goal or an assist may have been enough to please Meram with his performance, but now, as a more mature player, he’s looking at all aspects of his game and it has fueled his improvement.

It’s early in the season, but both Meram and Crew SC are off to hot starts. Having contributed a goal or an assist at every game at MAPFRE Stadium (“Can we play every game at home?”) the fans are getting to see up close what a special player Meram has become.

According to Berhalter, those around the league have been watching as well.

“I think people are taking notice of him. It’s hard not to with what he’s been doing,” he said of Meram. “When I talk to coaches, they can’t speak highly enough about him. So I think he’ll start to get more recognition from the public because he’s an outstanding player.”

Meram may not care about individual accolades at this point in his career, but if he keeps up his current form, some may be coming his way. While he won’t canvass for himself, his teammate and old friend Josh Williams has no problem doing it for him.

“I am,” Williams proclaimed during Meram’s postgame interview. “J9 for MVP!”