Columbus Crew SC missed five of its most important players last Saturday, when the Black & Gold suffered an impactful 3-0 defeat to the Philadelphia Union on the road. However, head coach Caleb Porter believes the team can ultimately benefit from one of those absences in the long term.
That’s because winger Justin Meram, who was struggling at the start of the Major League Soccer season, had a couple of solid performances with the Iraq National Team, which Porter is confident can help him to find his best form.
Last Wednesday, Meram scored the game-winning goal in Iraq’s 1-0 over Syria, his first finish since last September. On Tuesday, he returned to the field and recorded an assist as Iraq beat Jordan 3-2. His performances were rewarded with the Most Valuable Player award in the friendly International Friendship Championship.
“I texted him after the first match, when he scored a goal, and again yesterday, after he had the assist and got the player of the tournament award, and told him ‘Congrats’”, Porter said after Wednesday’s training session in Obetz. “I told him that was exactly what we had hoped would happen. We wanted him to get a little reset and go away and gain his form back. It was the best case-scenario and it couldn’t have played out better.”
Thankful for my teammates for helping me achieve this award. Two great wins in Basra https://t.co/AleeG31EUI— Justin Meram (@JustinMeram) March 26, 2019
Meram was one of the best Crew players in 2017, when he scored 13 goals. After the season, he requested a trade and was sent to Orlando City SC, but made his way back to Columbus just a few months later during the 2018 MLS season. He entered 2019 as the starting left winger under Porter but after just two matches, lost his starting job to Brazilian newcomer Robinho.
According to Porter, who coached a huge number of international players during his tenure with the Portland Timbers, the understanding is that Meram can benefit from the breath of fresh air he had during his days back in Iraq and regain his best form in Columbus.
“I’ve seen it a lot, I’ve had a lot of internationals,” Porter commented. “Sometimes, it’s just about that getaway. We all need a getaway sometimes to come back better. That’s why we try to give guys days off every once in a while, so they can get away from soccer for a bit. And it’s the same when you go into a new environment and kind of reinvent yourself a bit. Maybe not thinking about what’s going on here and going reinvent yourself and it’s like a new start. I’ve seen it time and again and that was kind of the psychology behind what we were trying to do.”
Once Meram is back, Porter will have a challenging decision to make as, while he certainly wants to take advantage from the winger’s momentum to put him back on the right track, he will also have to manage his fitness level after two matches and a long trip.
After all, he’s not the only one looking to bounce back this week as the Crew faces reigning MLS Cup winners Atlanta United on Saturday at MAPFRE Stadium.
“The tough thing is that he’s traveling 24 hours after playing two games, so we’ll really need to analyze and see where he’s at when he gets here,” the coach added. “And also, Robinho just had one of his best training days since he got here, he was on fire. He was a little bit trying to send a message after this last game. It wasn’t his best game and he knows that. It will be a tough decision, but we’ll make it based on those factors.”
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