Currently the oldest player on Real Salt Lake’s roster at 33 years old, Justin Meram provided nearly 1,400 minutes in last season’s campaign. His 31 appearances mean that only four other players in Claret and Cobalt featured in more matches than Meram. Still, with a regular season total of 2 goals and 5 assists, it was a year of highs and lows for the veteran MLS winger.
Meram shined his brightest at the latter stages of the year when pressure for results was at its highest. His two assists in the 80th and 90th to steal a 2-1 victory away at Dallas in week 31, overshadowed quickly by even more dramatic turns. His near iconic bicycle-kick assist winner to Damir Kreilach on Decision Day was the first. The second, a surging run down the left-hand side to set up Bobby Wood for a late winner in the MLS Western Conference Semi-Finals. It’s by no means a stretch to say that without Meram on the roster, RSL not only wouldn’t have had its deep playoff run, but likely wouldn’t have made the playoffs at all. This fact was rewarded with a new two-year contract, keeping the former Iraqi international in Salt Lake until the end of 2023.
However, it’s important to note that despite his end of year heroics, Meram did suffer through a bit of a lack-luster season otherwise. This becomes most evident when looking at his stats compared to the other full-time wingers (not Rusnak, who split playing time at center attacking midfield) on roster with the team.
While markedly better than Chang in terms of offensive production per 90 minutes, Meram was a clear 3rd best of the group statistically. Menéndez with more than 400 minutes less almost perfectly matched his production while joining the team mid-season. Meram’s defensive effort is far from notable as well, as he thrives on getting forward and sparking counter attacking chances, this typically means he doesn’t drop back as deep as your average attacking winger. For such an offensive focused player, you’d hope and expect a bit more, well, offense.
Taking that all into account, he still has an important role to fill in the upcoming season. Not only has he emerged as a real leader in the locker room, but also as someone that is happy to help the team any way he can. Even if relegated to a bench role, Meram in terms of MLS quality would fill that role well for most any team. Add into account his veteran experience and ability to help train up the next generation of players, and you have a very serviceable and valuable piece to the 2022 RSL puzzle.
One thing is for certain though; Meram provided some of our most iconic moments in 2021, ones we might be seeing in highlight reels for a long, long time.