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Justin Meram is keeping two feet on the ground

With buzz building, J9 stays focused on improvement, and the Red Bulls

Sam Fahmi

Justin Meram’s season has started off incredibly strong, with four goals and four assists through seven matches. Columbus Crew SC fans have begun to generate considerable buzz on social media, with phrases such as “All Star Meram” and “Meram for MVP” becoming more and more common.

For his part, Meram is ignoring the hype.

“Ask me again in July, or whenever they announce the team,” he said on Wednesday. “Obviously it’s great to get individual recognition, but I’m just focusing on each game, improving my game, and improving the team’s game.”

Meram’s form to close out 2016 lifted him to the team’s Most Valuable Player award. He was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise forgettable campaign, finishing the season with five goals and 13 assists in all competitions. He is well on his way to equaling that tally through the first month and a half of MLS play with four goals and two assists.

His focus? Consistency.

“I’m not doing anything different, I prepare the same way each week,” Meram said. “My goal is always the same, to play harder, play better, and help the team win. I know I’ve been playing well but I want to play consistently well, for longer periods of time.”

This echoes the words of his coach, Gregg Berhlater.

“He’s been solid, but he still needs to keep working, to show it over a longer stretch, a bigger sample size,” Berhalter said. “I’ve been seeing stuff about MVP and All Star, and all that stuff I believe he can attain, but it needs to happen over a bigger sample size than seven games.”

Meram seems to be taking this message to heart. Over the last two years the winger has been consistently praised by analysts for his off the ball work, particularly his defensive contributions that don’t always show up on the stat sheet. But Meram isn’t content with his current level.

“I’m definitely proud of my defensive work, and my growth there, but I’m still trying to help myself,” he explained. “You know, last game (against Toronto FC) there were moments where I still have to read the game much better. Even though I say I’m the old man here, age-wise, I still have many more years to learn and grow my game.”

This drive for improvement, especially defensively, is something Meram credits for lifting his game offensively.

“You know, people might not think this, but that improvement, that work defensively really fuels my offensive performance,” he said. “Defending hard, having my teammates see me defending hard, doing my job on both sides of the ball, it’s going to go a long way for the team. It gives me a lift, and you can see that (in my offense).”

Meram signed a new contract in the off season, keeping him at the club for the next three years. Meram has played his entire pro career for the Black & Gold, and will be 31 years old at the end of his next contract, leading some fans to hope Meram may spend his entire career in Columbus.

For his part, Meram is staying focused on the now.

“You know, it’s always great to see guys playing their whole careers with one team, but that’s just too far in the future for me to say,” he said. “If I play out this contract it’s almost double-digits. It hasn’t really hit me yet. If I play this one out, I’ll take a look at where this team and this club is at heading in to my last contract or two, and go from there.”

While all the buzz surrounding him could easily become a distraction, Justin is staying firmly grounded by focusing on one thing only.

“I’m just going to go a game at a time, hopefully we can continue to win, and I know we’re going to be successful in New York,” he said.