Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Odd Man In(side): Columbus Crew SC's Justin Meram

I dunno. Maybe his are invisible...
Was it Bruce Arena who expressed his admiration for Clint Dempsey with the immortal phrase, "He tries shit"? (Yep. Among other gems.)

Dempsey has found his spot on his field by now, but he was among the first of a rare species of player lurks today on some MLS rosters. Assuming your club has one, he's likely one of the more divisive players. Bar-room debates that can only end with "agree to disagree" surround this one, with the subject most often revolving around his best position on the field. In the end, the only thing any large group of people can agree on is that he belongs on the starting eleven.

For my club, the Portland Timbers, that's Darlington Nagbe. For the Columbus Crew SC, my guess for that role would be Justin Meram. Because he drives me insane.

When I watched Columbus' win over Toronto FC during Week 2, my attention drifted to Meram time and again. He commands it, for one, and that goes back to the phrase above: "he tries shit." Whether it's inadvisable, better options are available, or it's just plain impossible, Meram will go for goal. Most often, this boils down to cutting inside from the wing and driving toward the opposition goal until, at some moment that only Meram can hear, a dog whistle sounds that commands him to "SHOOT!" And so he does.  He's sort of like a pro wrestler in that sense: it's the man's "finishing move"...but this is soccer, an unscripted sport, so this comes off something less than automatically.

He scored Saturday against TFC, but it wasn't a terribly Meram-esque goal. Instead, he beat his man inside on the far-post run to head in Columbus' first. OK, yes, he cut inside, but this wasn't Meram dipping into the well just...one...more...time. Add some variety and his ceiling rises.

If all the above sounds like a knock, it is and it isn't. Percentages notwithstanding, Meram can shoot from range and even if it's repetitive, his approach gives Columbus an attacking option different from Ethan Findley's slashing runs behind the defense and, since this year, Kei Kamara's presence and power. Bernardo Anor's departure for Sporting Kansas City only made Meram's skill-set more unique. For all that, Meram is frustrating. Many of his attempts scream "bad idea" before his wind-up. The man plays like he's wearing blinders. Maybe he can combine around the 18, or break down the wing; all I know is that, when I think Meram, I think "long, surging dribble that ends with a hopeful shot."

Even if I believe better players are out there, I get Meram's upside. Hell, I would love to see some of Meram's...let's call it audacity, could rub off on Nagbe. That's not to say that Nagbe and Meram take a similar approach to the game; even if they share a general penchant for holding the ball too damn long. I'd also argue that Nagbe's skill-set rates quite a bit higher. For me, the difference is trying shit. Meram does, maybe too often, but he does it. And good for him. If nothing else, it gave him a brief life as a rock star.

This is something to think about, this whole thing about odd-duck players and what they can do to improve their game(s). Meram, Nagbe...who else is out there?

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