It’s been a difficult last few months for nearly everyone involved with Columbus Crew SC.
Since owner Anthony Precourt announced the possibility of relocating the club to Austin, Texas in mid-October, there has been a dark cloud hanging over what has been an otherwise successful team.
“It’s definitely not easy,” Crew SC winger Justin Meram admitted. “I think about it. This has been home for me for going on eight years now.”
Meram was selected 15th overall by the Black & Gold in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft and has played each of his professional seasons with Columbus. He sits fifth on the club’s all-time appearance list with 188 games played.
While Meram has experienced similar feelings in recent months to Crew SC fans, he also has a way to distance himself from the situation.
It was reported in early January by MLSSoccer.com’s Sam Stejskal that Meram, along with striker Ola Kamara, had requested a trade and the uncertainty of the club’s future was at least part of the reason.
Kamara was dealt to the LA Galaxy on Friday, but Meram remains a part of the Black & Gold.
With preseason officially kicking off on Wednesday, sporting director and head coach Gregg Berhalter reiterated that Meram would not be dealt unless Columbus receives a significant offer, something he has clarified to Meram.
“I sat down with Justin and we talked and we were very clear about the expectations that we’re looking for in a deal,” Berhalter said. “We’ll consider something if those expectations are met. And if they’re not met, we won’t consider it. He’s too important to this group to give him away for something that’s not going to significantly benefit the club. And I explained that to him and he was very understand of that.”
To Meram’s credit, he’s handling it like a professional, admitting the talks with Berhalter went well. Unlike other players around Major League Soccer who are looking to move on or what new contracts — Cyle Larin, Lee Nguyen and Sunday Stephen — Meram was present and took part in the team’s first practice of 2018.
“I know who I am as a person, as a teammate and I think I handled myself differently. But I can’t speak for others players in their situations,” Meram said when asked if sitting out crossed his mind. “I’m sure it’s completely different and I know my scenario is very different because of how much respect I have for this club and this coaching staff. So for me, it was right for me to be here and to train and take it one day at a time.”
In talking with Meram, the winger comes across the same as he has over his last eight years. From his approach, it’s almost as if the trade request never happened.
The winger returned to Columbus from an offseason that featured time spent in Detroit and San Diego on Jan. 2 and began preparing for 2018. He worked out with new teammate Mike Grella, getting to know the winger who he had gone against during his time with the New York Red Bulls.
On Wednesday, Meram touched on what he hopes to accomplish this year, similarly to how he has in previous preseasons.
“My goals are always to achieve more than what I did last year individually and collectively. I’m never satisfied. I think it’s what pushes myself to try to compete with the best wingers in this league.
I always try to put myself with Piatti and Accam and these type of players that are averaging 14, 15 goals a season. For myself, I know I’m capable of doing that and every year I try to work on different things of my game.”
What’s going on with Crew SC is a difficult situation for everyone involved.
For Meram, the club’s longest-tenured player who reportedly is seeking a new challenge, things are even more difficult.
Does he want to be a part of potential lame-duck year and face even more questions about relocation as the season progresses? Can he stand packing his bags and moving the club he loves to Austin without a choice?
“There’s many different scenarios. I don’t think you guys know much. The media portrays it one way,” Meram said.
“Everyone in life, you have moments of what you want. For me, there’s many things. I’m very passionate for this club. It’s the team that drafted me and there’s not much more to say about it.”