Atlanta United made a deadline day move Tuesday, bringing in MLS veteran attacker Justin Meram from Columbus Crew SC. But what exactly does the versatile forward bring to the pitch at Mercedes-Benz Stadium? We sat down with Atlanta United VP & Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra for an exclusive Q&A on the new addition to the Five Stripes:
When did you first realize signing Justin Meram was a possibility?
CB: "We really started talking to Columbus about this becoming a reality within the last week as the trade deadline got closer. Obviously we’ve known about Justin for a long time through his play in the league. We were well aware of him, he played in the Eastern Conference so he’s an opponent we’ve played against, he’s actually scored against us. So we’re very familiar with him."
What kind of qualities does he bring to the team?
CB: "He’s coming from a team in Columbus, especially under their previous coach Gregg Berhalter, that plays in a similar style to what we play in Atlanta. We thought that was a positive. He likes to play on the left and come inside. He has very good vision to find the final pass, he’s creative, and he’ll be brave in and around the box as far as taking a player on, taking a shot or bringing other people into the game. Those were some of the qualities that we had seen. He scored 13 goals in this league just a couple seasons ago, so we also know he has the capability to find the net. Now it’s up to us to put him in the right spots to give him the best chance to be successful."
Meram has played in several different positions in the attack. How important was his versatility when you were discussing bringing him in?
CB: "We have a lot of players that go on international duty, we’re in the middle of a stretch of eight games in 27 days. So we needed someone who could add competition to the squad, a player of starting caliber to our roster who can come in and compete directly. He’ll need time to learn to play with his teammates, and it’d be an unrealistic expectation for him to be a hero on day one. But as an MLS veteran he won’t need as much time to adapt to the league itself. He knows the travel, the different stadiums and teams –– he understands what it takes to play in MLS. He’s someone who can come in and make an impact and we don’t have to worry about all those outside factors. You take that part out of it when you bring in an MLS veteran. That’s a positive. He knows the Eastern Conference, he’s played with Michael Parkhurst so he’ll have a friendly face to help him get to know the guys in the locker room. We expect him to come in and compete for a spot immediately and push the team along, whatever role he’s used in."
Locker room fit and personality has always been a focus when Atlanta United is considering a player. What does Meram bring off the field and in the locker room?
CB: "We spoke to Justin directly. Obviously he moved from Columbus to Orlando and back to Columbus, so there were a lot of changes in scenery and there were a few coaching changes for him in that time as well. So I spoke to Justin directly, and he was open-minded. He knows what he’s getting in to here. We spoke about being upfront and honest with each other and the expectations we have. Without getting too much into the details, it was just a really good conversation. He’s excited for the challenge, excited to have this opportunity, and we are as well. We think we’re getting an MLS starting-caliber player that we can add to our roster, so we’re excited to have him."