Justin Meram’s train arrived at the station this summer, and now it’s taking him to the Middle East.
The 25-year-old Columbus Crew midfielder was a big part of the team’s resurgence under Gregg Berhalter, scoring 8 times and adding 4 assists in 32 games (19 starts).
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Every single one of those stats was a career-best and Iraq’s national set-up has taken notice. Both of Meram’s parents are Iraq natives, and the Lions of Mesopotamia have a new American call-up for the 2014 Gulf Cup of Nations.
“The No. 1 focus was the Iraq national team; it’s always been my focus,” Meram said in a conference call with media Monday. “Having my family come from back home, that’s just my culture, I was born and raised with it. That was my dream and the goal I always wanted. I’m just so happy that I’m a part of it now.”
While the Islamic State and other issues still plague Iraq and the Middle East, Meram says he has no concerns about joining the team, whether in Saudi Arabia or Iraq.
“I know that with the national team and security, everything is fine,” he said. “I feel secure in wherever I need to be with the national team, whether it’s heading Saudi Arabia for the Gulf Cup or back to the nation’s capital. I’m secure with any games or any place we need to play.”
Meram is one of only a handful of players who ply their trades outside of the Middle East. Ahmed Yasin plays for Orebro and Yaser Kasim plays for Swindon Town. Mahdi Karim has played at Apollon Limassol, but for the most part it’s an Iraq-and-its-surrounding-areas-centric team.
Whether that makes it harder or easier to break into the team is a question worth asking, and Iraq has only qualified for one World Cup (1986) and one Confederations Cup (2009). Maybe Meram’s skill set can be just what Iraq needs to improve on last season’s second place finish at the Gulf Cup of Nations.