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Justin Meram knew about the ‘handshake agreement’ but prayed to play against Orlando City

The Black & Gold winger desperately wanted to play against his former side but missed out for the second time this season.

MLS: Columbus Crew at Montreal Impact Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

An hour before Saturday’s game with Orlando City SC, the Columbus Crew SC lineup was released on Twitter. There was a noticeable absence from the team sheet in winger Justin Meram.

Since returning to the club in a trade with Orlando in early August, Meram started six of nine games and only didn’t play for Crew SC in the last seven matches when given rest against the Portland Timbers in mid-September during a three-game-in-a-week stretch. Yet not only was Meram not in the starting lineup for the Black & Gold, he was not even on the bench.

Instead, Meram was at home, watching the game from his couch due to a “handshake agreement” that was part of the trade to bring the winger back to Columbus. While the club chose not to disclose this agreement until after the game, Meram knew there was a chance he would not travel to take on his former club last week, even as he talked to reporters about his excitement to face the Lions.

“I was (aware of it),” he said on Tuesday. “But we went down to the final wire to see if anything could change from that aspect. So early on in the week, we didn’t want to close anything out.”

After spending the first seven years of his professional career with Crew SC, Meram requested a trade over the offseason and was dealt to OCSC in late January. Things did not go as planned for Meram in Florida where he struggled, playing in 17 games games but registering one goal and three assists. Not seeing playing time, Meram was dealt back to the Black & Gold on Aug. 2 and has been a regular for Columbus since.

That is until Saturday when he once again didn’t get to face his former side after not playing for Orlando at MAPFRE Stadium in the teams’ only other meeting of the year.

“I’ve never played against my former club, on both sides of it. Just my luck,” Meram joked.

While Meram was in a good mood on Tuesday, that was not the case on Sunday. Instead of being able to help his team in a game where a win would have secured a spot in the 2018 MLS Cup playoffs, Meram sat on his couch, anxiously watching Crew SC lose 2-1 to the last place team in the Eastern Conference.

“It sucks, I’ll be honest. It’s hard watching that game at home, not helping the team and the emotions of that game.” he said.

“I was uneasy to be honest. I had to get out of the house a little bit and just get away from it because you’re almost hopeless. Throughout the week, I was praying that I could play in this game. And for the way it went down and we weren’t at our best and give credit to Orlando.”

According to head coach Gregg Berhalter, the agreement was something Orlando insisted upon to allow the trade to go through. Despite starting Meram 14 times in five months, OCSC didn’t want to see the Lion of Mesopotamia return to central Florida.

Regardless of why or how, Meram did not play against the Lions. His teammates scored first but conceded two penalty kicks, one in second half stoppage time, and failed to qualify for the postseason once again. That means on Saturday, at home against Minnesota United, Crew SC must win to ensure its spot in the playoffs.

Not getting to help his team last week may be a positive for Meram who plans to use that as motivation and ensure postseason passage for the Black & Gold for the second straight season.

“I hope it’s motivational,” Meram said. “Not only for myself but guys that were left back or guys that are going to have to step in because in a way this is a playoff game for us. It’s amazing that we’re going to have a lot of support, especially from the news that happened in prior weeks. It (could be) the last home game, the implications of what it means for our season. So it should be an exciting match.”