To put it generally, I love the Justin Meram signing. A couple of weeks ago on Twitter, @randalserr shared MLS’s list of free agents asking if there was anyone who RSL fans would be interested in, and the only one that really caught my attention was Justin Meram. When he’s had a competent team around him, he has been a dangerous attacker in this league, and I think RSL has the sort of team where he can do well. I’ll leave people who are more tactically inclined to talk about how Meram will fit in the team though. I want to talk about why Meram’s signing is a big deal for RSL as a club. I think Meram is the latest example of how the club will acquire high quality, veteran talent from within the league going forward. This is big because not only will this establish RSL’s place in the league when it comes to signing experienced players, but it also shows that RSL is willing to go after guys like Meram who can contribute on the field with their play and off the field with their experience.
Meram, Ashtone Morgan, and Kelyn Rowe are three experienced and recognized players in the league that we have signed in the past six months, with Meram probably being the "biggest" of the three. When was the last time before this season RSL signed a "big name" player from within the league (free agent or not)? You could maybe present a case for Luis Silva, but I think we’d have to go back to Joao Plata in 2013. All other "big name" (and I use that term lightly here) players from within the league who have played for RSL this decade were either with us when we won the MLS Cup, players who had been in the league and were returning from playing abroad, or players who built themselves up with the club after being a relatively unknown or a homegrown. Basically, these signings have not been the norm for RSL up until the past six months. But I think RSL will be looking to make these sorts of signings in the future, and that Meram, Morgan, and Rowe are just the beginning of a trend that will see more experienced players from within the league coming to RSL in years to come.
I think by now it’s pretty clear what RSL’s model is: develop young players and balance the roster out with older veterans. I don’t even think it’s a question that having older, more experienced players like Rimando, Beckerman, Nedum, Kreilach, and even Beltran around the younger kids on the first team has been beneficial for their development. Since we know that RSL’s main focus is youth development, the idea would be to spend less money on the veterans so you can put more into youth. What I think we are seeing in MLS 3.0, or whatever it is now, are more high quality veterans available for free agency, and thus available for RSL to sign without transfer fees, and even potentially sign for less money than they would be able to otherwise. I think the club sees this as a way to keep more money available to invest in youth, while still being able to acquire proven talent from within the league.
What makes this strategy even better for RSL going forward is that with the new MLSPA deal that came through last week, free agency will be open to more players going forward. As Matt Montgomery explained in his breakdown of the new deal, "Players at least 24 years old and with at least five years of MLS experience are eligible for free agency. That’s a significant improvement from the old rule, which required players be 28 years old and have at least eight years of MLS experience. Previously, teams were allowed to sign only two free agents during an offseason. That’s been uncapped now, and teams may sign unlimited free agents." This opens up opportunities for the club to continue this trend and sign experienced players who are still contributors in the league at reduced costs. Not everyone that we will sign this way will have a name like Meram or Rowe necessarily, and I don’t think that we’ll be looking at this method to fill spots 1-11 on our roster, but we’ll be able to sign quality players who can be solid depth options or even push for starting minutes.
Honestly, I love just thinking about Meram as an RSL player. Do I expect him to put up numbers like he did with the Crew from 2014-17? No. I’m pretty sure that’s not why we got him. I think Meram will be a solid attacking option for us, but his biggest contribution to the team will be on the training ground and in the locker room. No matter what impact he has on the field, his mentoring of Corey Baird, Jeizon Ramierez, Chris Garcia, etc. will be his most important contribution to the club in my opinion.