Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP

Report: Orlando’s Justin Meram could be traded back to Columbus

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A former Columbus Crew midfielder could be on his way back to the Eastern Conference side.

[ MORE: Whitecaps teen Davies on brink of Bayern move ]

Several reports have suggested that Orlando City’s Justin Meram could be on his way back to Columbus, as the Lions look to trade the midfielder back to the club that drafted the 29-year-old.

The veteran attacker joined the Lions back in January in a trade after spending seven seasons with the Crew.

Reliable Twitter account MLS Transfers first reported the story on Sunday, also naming the Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Cincinnati as potential landing spots for Meram.

Meram was traded to Orlando back in January after requesting a move away from Columbus due to ongoing talks of the club being relocated out of Ohio.

The Iraq international has struggled in his first season with Orlando, scoring just one goal in 17 appearances for the club — who currently sit in ninth place and six points outside of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Three (more) things we learned on MLS opening day

Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP
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It’s a long, old season of soccer-ing still to be soccer-ed, but we’re 60 percent of the way through the opening weekend of MLS 2018, which means it’s time to start drawing grand conclusions.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

PST’s Joe Prince-Wright talked us through the first three lessons of the newborn season this afternoon. Now, a look at three games this evening…

[ MORE: MLS 2018 season previews

There should have been an all-out bidding war for Justin Meram

Orlando City SC only got a draw against D.C. United on Saturday, but Jason Kreis is surely over the moon with regards to the dominant performance of Justin Meram, just one — and the most expensive — of the Lions’ major offseason acquisitions. Despite the fact he and Orlando were a man down for 50 minutes, Meram, who was very clearly given the freest of roles in the absence of Sacha Kljestan (suspension), Dom Dwyer and Josue Colman (injuries), was far and away the best player on the field.

At right, you can see both Meram’s attempted passes (key passes are in yellow — there’s four of them, not including the inch-perfect through ball to Jonathan Spector which earned Meram a secondary assist on Orlando’s 93rd-minute equalizer) and attempted dribbles. To say, those success percentages are high, would be a massive understatement. There’s still a ton to be worked out by Kreis and Co., as far as the long-term formation and system go, and Meram’s versatility will give his new coach an endless list of options. If Saturday’s showing can be replicated another 20-24 times this season, the Lions have themselves a real darkhorse MVP candidate.

As an aside, 21 other teams had the opportunity to pay a small fortune in order to acquire Meram this winter, but very few — if any — teams not named Orlando were reported to have engaged in serious negotiations with Columbus Crew SC. Shame on every last one of them.


Justen Glad is next-level good

It should come as very little surprise to anyone who watched him in 2016, and particularly in 2017, that Justen Glad — he of more than 4,500 MLS minutes before his 21st birthday (last Wednesday) — is easily a top-five (if not -two or -three) center back in the league already.

Real Salt Lake found themselves under a constant flow of pressure during their 1-1 draw with FC Dallas — in truth, RSL were horribly unlucky to only come away with a point after Glad’s partner, Marcelo Silva, scored an own goal four minutes from full-time — and Glad was the undisputed star of the defensive show.

Glad’s final stat line for the night: 7 clearances, 4 interceptions, 2 blocks, 2 recoveries — all while completing nearly 80 percent of his 35 passes attempted against an extremely front-foot FCD side which trailed for more than an hour.

There were times over the last two years where Glad relied almost solely upon his brilliant recovery speed and instincts, but 90 minutes into 2018 — on the back of an almost faultless finish to last season — he’s in complete control of RSL’s entire defensive, he’s seeing, reading and reacting to threats long before they materialize, and he’s arguably the most important player on a team that has the look of Supporters’ Shield challengers.


I’m just really sorry for you, Revs fans

Here’s the thing about hiring a first-time head coach: he’s never been a head coach before, and there’s no way to possibly know whether or not he’s actually qualified for the job. That’s where I’m at — and where everyone else should be, too — with Brad Friedel. Couple that with the fact that the New England Revolution’s roster is an unmitigated disaster zone, and it’s going to be a long, long season in Boston Foxborough. The season that just might never end began on Saturday, with a 2-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union, and only nine players on the field at full-time.

Sure, there’s plenty of exciting attacking talent — from Lee Nguyen, to Diego Fagundez, to Juan Agudelo and Krisztian Nemeth — but there’s a whole other half of the field that hasn’t been blessed with a single successful signing since… I don’t know, Jermaine Jones, all the way back in 2014.

It’s true: sometimes you really do have to completely bottom out before you can get better.

Also true: you can actively facilitate such a process by acknowledging your own failures and shortcomings, blow the whole thing up on your own accord, and get to the other side a whole lot quicker. Just think about it.

Justin Meram discusses Crew’s hot form, facing Atlanta and more

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The Eastern Conference has established itself within the ranks of Major League Soccer given the quality of the sides at the top.

While Atlanta United — in its first MLS season — and Toronto FC dominate headlines, alongside New York City FC, lost in the shuffle is Columbus Crew SC.

[ MORE: Impact fire Mauro Biello after team loses nine of last 10 matches ]

The Crew finished fifth in a congested East after settling for a 2-2 draw on Decision Day against NYCFC, however, Greg Berhalter’s squad has been among the best in MLS for the second half of the season.

Pro Soccer Talk caught up with Crew midfielder Justin Meram ahead of his side’s first-round matchup against Atlanta in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

“I wouldn’t say there’s less pressure on us,” Meram told PST. ” We might be written off in terms of the attention that they have had this season. Some networks have come out by saying that they [Atlanta] are the favorites, but nothing changes with this group.

“We let all that outside noise stay outside and we don’t let it affect us. Whether they have us winning a game, or whatever the case may be, we have a game plan and a style of play that we look to execute no matter where we go.”

Decision Day around MLS has created havoc — and a great narrative — but Sunday’s result against NYCFC proved to be the difference between potentially hosting a playoff game, or possibly having a bye, versus now having to travel to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Obviously that’s what makes Decision Day so much more exciting,” Meram said. “We didn’t control our own destiny, but the way things went with Atlanta and Chicago we could have jumped from fifth to second. It’s just one of those things that didn’t go our way.

“We didn’t play our best in the first half, but we also faced a really good team and I was pleased with how we bounced back. I think that showed our quality and our ability to claw back into games on the road, which is crucial during the playoffs.”

The Crew have been one of the league’s top home sides in 2017, winning 12 matches at MAPFRE Stadium — which ranks second in MLS behind only Toronto FC.

However, Meram and his side now face a stiff test against an Atlanta team that has lost just one of its eight matches since moving over from Bobby Dodd Stadium in mid-September.

“I need to be at my very best on Thursday,” Meram said. “We all need to be on top of our game because we need a collective effort in order to beat Atlanta.”

Scheduling has a funny way of factoring into the outcomes of matches at times, but given the fact that the Crew and Atlanta haven’t met since July 1 all bets are off in terms of which side is the  favorite to advance.

Atlanta won both matches earlier in the season as the two clubs met in home-and-home fixtures over a span of three weeks, but Meram remains confident that his side’s current form will help them prevail.

“Their attack is lethal,” Meram said when asked about facing an Atlanta side that scored 70 regular season goals. “One small little mistake allows them to pounce on chances. They punish you.

“We have to be clinical with our build up play and shape throughout the match. When we get our half-chances we need to bury them. When we played Atlanta the first time, we had a couple of breakaways that we didn’t put away and it hurt us.

“We have the quality, but playing at their home, with their fans, we need to focus on finishing our chances in order to advance.”

The topic of relocation has come as a shock not just in Columbus, but throughout MLS since last week’s announcement that owner Anthony Precourt would explore his options for the club moving forward.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Meram has insisted though that he and his Crew teammates remain focused on winning MLS Cup — which would be the club’s second in franchise history.

“Obviously we haven’t let it affect us,” Meram told PST. “We played a really good game on Sunday. We’re just staying with the same mindset that we’ve had the second half of the season, which doesn’t reflect the owner’s announcement.

“There’s not much I can say. I have a job to do. He [Precourt] has a job to do. The fans have their job to do. Right now, it’s about focusing on the playoffs and seeing what happens. There’s nothing definitive about staying or going, so I can’t speculate at this point.

“At the end of the day, I want a championship, and I believe that’s the feeling for all of our guys right now. That’s how it has to be from the player’s perspective because the second we shift our mindset we’re going to get punished by other sides.”

MLS (afternoon) roundup: TFC make it 6 in a row; Meram bags hat trick

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The 10th MLS Saturday of 2017 is nearly halfway complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Toronto FC 3-2 Minnesota United

Don’t look now, but TFC are sprinting away from the rest of the pack in the Eastern Conference. Saturday’s victory over Minnesota, a back-and-forth affair that saw the visitors twice come back to level terms, pushes Greg Vanney’s side to 25 points, six clear of everyone else in the East (TFC have played three more games than third-place Orlando City SC, who are on 18 points). The most impressive part: they’ve won six straight games, including five in a just-completed 15-day period that saw a number of key players rested at various points.

It was anything but pretty on Saturday, but the Reds will take all three points and a day or two of rest now, thank you very much. Sebastian Giovinco opened the scoring, from the penalty spot, in the 20th minute, a lead which they held until the 52nd minute, when Kevin Molino equalized for the Loons. Just two minutes later, though, Christian Ramirez bundled the ball into his own net for a 2-1 TFC lead.

Molino would pull Minnesota level once again, this time putting home the rebound from his own missed penalty kick, but Jozy Altidore, who replaced Giovinco in the 44th minute, would not be denied in his efforts to set up Tosaint Ricketts for the game-winning goal in the 77th minute.


Montreal Impact 2-3 Columbus Crew SC

Justin Meram is a star, and it’s time that everyone realizes and accepts it. After bagging his first career hat trick on Saturday, Meram’s 2017 numbers are as follows: seven goals and four assists, from 11 games. He’s just one away from a new career-high goals tally, and currently on pace to fall just short of his single-season high in assists (13).

Each and every one of the goals were pivotal, by the way, as the 28-year-old Iraqi international put Columbus 2-0 before the half-hour mark before bagging the game-winner in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. Defending — particularly on set pieces — remains a gigantic problem for Gregg Berhalter’s side, but they sit second in the East regardless.


Colorado Rapids 3-0 San Jose Earthquakes

On today’s edition of MLS Makes No Sense Whatsoever… we have Colorado, who haven’t won since the opening day of the season — who, in fact, have won just a single point in their seven games since opening day — crushing fifth-place San Jose, 3-0.

Shkelzen Gashi bagged himself a brace (29th and 56th minutes) either side of Dominique Badji’s goal in the 35th minute, and just like that Colorado are level with Philadelphia Union (for the time being) as the sides with the worst point totals (7 from 9 games) in MLS.

Tonight’s MLS schedule

D.C. United vs. Philadelphia Union — 7 p.m. ET
Orlando City SC vs. Sporting Kansas City — 7 p.m. ET
New England Revolution vs. Real Salt Lake — 7:30 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. Seattle Sounders — 9 p.m. ET

Sunday’s MLS schedule

Portland Timbers vs. Atlanta United — 4 p.m. ET
New York Red Bulls vs. LA Galaxy — 6 p.m. ET
FC Dallas vs. New York City FC — 8 p.m. ET

MLS (afternoon) roundup: NYCFC top SJ; Schweinsteiger stars in debut

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The fourth (full — playing during international breaks should be banned) MLS Saturday of 2017 is nearly halfway complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

New York City FC 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes

David Villa continues to be the best, most skilled pure striker to ever ply his trade in MLS, and we’re so lucky to watch on a weekly basis. His first touch, which set up Jack Harrison for NYCFC’s opening goal against San Jose on Saturday, is something that doesn’t even exist in video games.

Villa then proceeded to pick up a secondary assist on Tommy McNamara’s 67th-minute game-winner, playing the first-time through ball to Ronald Matarrita, who crossed for a late-arriving McNamara. Easy finish for him, and NYCFC have their second win of the season and a three-game unbeaten run.

[ MORE: Sporting KC rookie got GOT by Vermes, teammates’ April Fools’ prank ]


Chicago Fire 2-2 Montreal Impact

Bastian Schweinsteiger‘s MLS career got off to a flying start on Saturday, as the 32-year-old World Cup winner marked his Chicago debut with a goal after 17 minutes (WATCH HERE). Schweinsteiger was largely the best player on the field over the course of his 90-minute shift, on two occasions playing inch-perfect through balls to create clear-cut scoring chances — one led directly to a red card — while missing out on a brace by a matter of inches.

Chicago went down to 10 men themselves, in the 71st minute, when Hernan Bernardello’s awful dive conned Ismail Elfath into showing Juninho a second yellow card. Matteo Mancosu had already headed Montreal back onto level terms 10 minutes earlier.

Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla put Montreal 2-1 ahead in the 90th minute, but Luis Solignac fired a bouncing shot past Evan Bush three minutes later to rescue a point for the home side.

[ MORE: San Diego’s April Fools’ prank — Footy McFooty Face ]


Columbus Crew SC 2-0 Orlando City SC

Columbus are top of the league (they’re also the only team to have played five games already this season), and Justin Meram has already decided he’s a (very early-season) MVP candidate in 2017 (three goals, two assists thus far). The Michigan-born Iraqi international bagged goals no. 2 and 3 of the season on Saturday, as Gregg Berhalter’s side cruised past Orlando in comfortable, convincing fashion.

With Meram, and Ethan Finlay and Federico Higuain back to firing on all cylinders while playing behind Ola Kamara — and Kekuta Manneh set to arrive and bolster an already lethal counter-attacking corps — the only thing that can keep Columbus of the playoffs this season will be more of the shoddy defending that befell them in 2016.