Crew SC boss Gregg Berhalter has a difficult lineup decision to make this weekend, as one of the team’s breakout stars of 2014 returns from suspension.
Justin Meram scored eight goals and notched four assists in 32 appearances and 19 starts last season, but he earned a red card out of frustration in Crew SC’s disappointing loss to the New England Revolution in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Meram called the experience watching his team from home Saturday in their season opener against the Houston Dynamo “terrible,” despite still being in the midst of recovery from his Asian Cup trip with the Iraq National Team. In his place, new addition Kristinn Steindorsson (pictured right) manned the left flank.
“I hope I don’t ever get another red card again because that was really hard to watch,” Meram said. “Part of me felt like I let my team down by having that silly mistake last year in the last game, but maybe it was a blessing to get fit and get ready.”
And while Berhalter gave Meram some time off in preseason after his offseason travels to adjust back to life in the States, he says the winger is ready to go for their home opener Saturday against Toronto FC (7:30 pm ET; TSN2 in Canada, MLS LIVE in the US).
“There were probably two games where [Meram] wasn’t involved with the first group, the last two games of preseason,” Berhalter said. “But just like any other player in the team, he’s in contention. Everyone is in contention. We base it on their body of work so far.”
Meram certainly won’t be a shoo-in for the start this weekend, though. Steindorsson impressed in preseason and was robbed by goalkeeper Tyler Deric in Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Dynamo when his back-post drive was pushed out of danger.
Steindorsson said it took some time to settle into the match, his first MLS appearance.
“It’s different,” he said. “You’re playing these preseason tournament games with 20 people in the stands, and then you go to the debut and it’s 20,000 people. It’s different because it’s MLS; the league has started. I think everyone has to get adjusted a little bit and get into it.”
After that adjustment period, Steindorsson felt his play was more indicative of his potential.
“The first half, maybe it was the first game and getting into things and seeing how the team plays and getting started,” he said. “Maybe it wasn’t the best half, but I thought in the second half I was more on the ball. I could turn to face goal and put in some passes and had one shot saved, so the second half was pretty good, I think.”
Whether he plays this weekend or not, Meram won’t be forgetting about the red card any time soon. Berhalter admitted he sometimes prods Meram about the misstep, but clarified that he wasn’t laughing at the time.
“To be honest, it’s not really funny,” Berhalter said. “To me, it was a question of him losing concentration, and that was indicative of that playoff series for us as a group. We want to get past that. I do joke with him. It’s not something I still bring up. The past is the past, and we’re moving forward.
“But it’s just a message to the guys to be smart and play with your heads. We want to be an intelligent team, and when you do stuff like that, it doesn’t necessarily reflect that.”
Berhalter has been predictably tight-lipped about who will get the nod against TFC, but he readily admits his decision has been made more complicated by Meram’s return.
“It adds to the competition, and that’s why we built this roster, so guys are competing to be on the field,” he said. “It’s going to be a difficult decision, but we’ll use the week and the preseason to come to our decision.”
WEEK TWO: NATIONAL TV