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Justin Meram eager to help Orlando City learn how to win, reach MLS playoffs

When reports late last year the Columbus Crew could soon relocate to Austin, Texas, Justin Meram began weighing his future with the club.

Concerns about the Crew leaving Columbus helped trigger Meram’s trade to Orlando City last month, a decision he said that wasn’t easy but had to happen eventually.

“It was part of it, I’m not going to lie. I didn’t want to be part of something that might be moving to another city. [Columbus] means a lot to me, but it was time to move on,” Meram told Pro Soccer USA.

Meram understood dips in attendance and Mapfre Stadium’s distance from downtown Columbus prompted club owner Anthony Precourt seek a move to Texas, but the forward wishes club leaders explored ways to keep the Crew in Ohio.

“The fans love that club, the city does, but at the same time I’ve been to many stadiums across MLS, and Columbus would struggle on some days — Wednesday night games maybe in the summer not getting many fans in games,” Meram said. “I think if they moved the stadium near downtown Columbus, it would be much better, but unfortunately it’s not the vision that the owner sees for this club and [he] sees Austin as the right place.”

Meram played seven seasons for the Crew from 2011-2017, scoring a career-high 13 MLS goals last season during 34 appearances.

But most important for Orlando City, 29-year-old Meram brings playoff experience to a club that’s been searching for its first appearance in the postseason since entering the league in 2015. It’s an attribute, he says, can be valuable for the Lions during the 2018 season.

“I’m a guy that loves to perform well under the lights,” Meram said. “When you bring a lot of guys like myself, who have been on winning teams, you know what it takes when it counts.

“Some guys are going to bring it every training, but it’s when it really counts the 90 minutes inside the pitch with 11 men, so for us, I know how to be successful, the mentality it takes on game days.”

It is the first time Meram has been traded during his MLS career, with the Lions sending $1.05 million in allocation money and an international slot to Columbus in exchange for the Meram.

He said the high profile transfer brings expectations he perform at a high level.

“First time I’m traded, so it’s for me to change my lifestyle as a professional and come into a different environment,” Meram said. “It’s going to be another challenge, there’s going to be more pressure on me for sure, definitely with the transfer amount. … It’s time to live up to it. I know I’ll have my moments, hopefully I can bring success to Orlando.”

Meram will be part of a new attack, joining newcomers Sacha Kljestan and Josué Colmán and veteran striker Dom Dwyer on the front line.

Kljestan joked he played a part in getting Meram to Central Florida via an offseason text message.

“When he heard I was moving and when I heard he was moving, I joked about him coming to Orlando,” Kljestan said. “… And with some things early in the offseason looking like he was going to go somewhere else, I was really excited when Jason [Kreis] told me that we got him.”

“He’s a player I really enjoyed watching in the league. I really think he’s had a lot of success for the last few years in Columbus. And he’s a very good player. … I like players that are easy to play with, so I think me and him will combine a lot this year and will be really fun.”

Dwyer said he is grateful to be teammates with Meram instead of playing against him.

“He’s a very talented player,” Dwyer said of Meram. “You seen over the years, he’s done some horrible things to us. But he’s a guy who works hard to be on the team, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do. I’ve watched him play for many years, but to be play alongside him will be very nice.”

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