If Justin Meram can play as well as he told jokes Friday, Atlanta United may have stolen the winger from Columbus in a deadline trade completed Tuesday.
Meram joked about how much he would charge Michael Parkhurst, his old friend from the Columbus Crew and new teammate, for babysitting. It’s $50 per hour.
Meram joked about how glad he was that he would no longer be tackled by Jeff Larentowicz now that they are no longer opponents.
Meram joked about the ramifications of getting caught ordering a pizza when he was supposed to be on a diet while playing for former Crew manager Gregg Berhalter in 2015.
But Meram didn’t joke about how excited he was when he learned he was being traded from Columbus to Atlanta United for a miserly $100,000 in Allocation Money and a second-round draft pick.
“It was a situation with a new manager, new philosophy, been there for a few years,” he said. “This opportunity came up and you’d be crazy to pass up a chance to play for this club, the way the organization is run, the coaching staff with their experience. And the players. Blessed to be here today.”
Meram said he hopes to make an impact with Atlanta United. He said he and manager Frank de Boer were going to meet either Friday or Saturday to discuss expectations and his role. De Boer said that Meram was ready to start Sunday’s game against Orlando because his skills as a good dribbler and moves off the ball work well within Atlanta United’s system.
“I think he’s a player who can contribute at different spots in our system,” de Boer said.
That Atlanta United will host Orlando makes the Meram trade that much more interesting.
Meram, 30, once was one of the better players in MLS, with 32 goals and 29 assists from 2014-17. He leveraged that talent and asked for a trade to Orlando, which was rebuilding with an eye toward winning now, before the 2018 season.
It didn’t work for either Meram or Orlando.
He scored one goal with three assists in 17 appearances. The relationship with the team’s passionate supporters dissipated, punctuated by him putting his fingers in his ears after scoring that lone goal.
He was traded back to Columbus in early August, scoring one goal with one assist in nine appearances.
When the trade to Atlanta United was announced Tuesday, some Orlando supporters took to social media to say how Meram was bad in the locker room and not the player he once was.
“They are still holding onto something they shouldn’t be,” he said. “I’ve moved on with my life. My time there was difficult. Not only for myself, but for others. I respect them, the people that treated me well. For the most part that’s what it was. An unfortunate situation. For me, my focus is on Sunday, anyway I can help the team. That’ll be the last of Orlando.”
Meram said he learned the trade was finalized Tuesday. He had four hours to pack two suitcases, get a haircut just in case he met the media (another joke), catch a flight and think about how he was going to fit within Atlanta United.
“Any player that comes in midseason is looking to integrate with the players on the field, off the field,” Meram said. “It’s important to understand each other lives, tendencies and the way they play the game. That’s going to be very important for me as I get used to the guys, brush up on my Spanish. No one speaks Arabic. It’ll be good. I feel like I have a good personality to come in and gel with the guys.”
Because Parkhurst didn’t have a spare bedroom (another joke), Meram is living in a hotel while he figures out his next steps.
He attended Wednesday’s 2-0 win against Toronto and participated in pregame warmups. Friday was his first full training session with the team. He said the quality of his new teammates was obvious and raved about the training ground.
“I’m speechless a little bit,” he said. “It’s unbelievable from top to bottom. I hope in the future all MLS clubs have facilities like this. This is amazing. I tell some of the young kids, when you use some other places you are spoiled right now.”
That wasn’t a joke, either.
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