COLUMBUS, Ohio - Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew is home to three of Michigan's finest soccer players who have worked daily to get to where they are today.
They are each a valuable part of the MLS team, and the trio proved it Saturday night in the game against Toronto.
Goalkeeper Steve Clark made a number of explosive saves to try to keep the Crew in the game while Adam Bedell was in key position for some great chances, including a narrowly missed header over the crossbar in the 1st half.
Justin Meram entered the game in the 2nd half and he pushed against the Toronto defense heavily and had a nice cross shot for a goal. The cross was intended to set up another player for a head-in but ended up bending and bouncing into the net past a confused goalie, giving the Crew a 2-1 lead.
The Crew lost 3-2 to Toronto. The team, however, had another purpose for playing strong. They played in honor of their fallen teammate, Kirk Urso, in this memorial game. Players wore KU armbands. After Meram's goal, he kissed the armband, looked up and raised his arms for Urso.
Meram was the first of the three Michigan players who made their way to the pros when Columbus began with the 1st round draft pick in 2010. Starting goalkeeper Clark was acquired soon after and brought over from Norway by the Crew in December 2013. He previously played for Honefoss. Bedell was drafted in January 2014 by Columbus. He has fought for and proven his worthiness for a spot as a starting forward with the team.
Being from Michigan is not the only thing each player has in common; they've each had to fight to prove themselves, work hard and believe enough in their dreams and talents to make it to the pros.
About Justin Meram
Meram was selected in the 1st round of the MLS Superdraft in 2011 at 15th overall. He was raised in Shelby Township, Mich. and attended Eisenhower High School where he was a four-year varsity soccer player, a MHSAA All-State First team honoree and MAC Conference Player of the Year as a senior.
Division 1 level colleges did not recruit him so he decided to go to a top junior college -- Yavapai College in Arizona where they won NJCAA National Championships in the two years he attended. At that point, he was heavily recruited and decided to come home to the University of Michigan in 2009 as a junior.
In Meram's senior year, Michigan won the school's first ever men's soccer Big Ten Championship and went to the College Cup Final Four for the first time.
"It was a long journey for me, not being recruited, and cut by numerous PDL teams. I made the journey to Arizona to junior college and from there it's history with two national titles and having my opportunity to get a scholarship at the University of Michigan," he said. "The coaches at Yavapai and the U of M coaches I have stayed in touch with are one of the reasons why I am here, besides my family and friends."
To the youth with aspirations of playing in the pros, Meram says to "follow your dreams."
"If someone tells you ‘no', put that on your board and make sure you prove them wrong. Numerous people told me I wasn't good enough and then I see them when I'm in the 1st round getting drafted. I want to thank them," said Meram. "They pushed me to a level that maybe I didn't work hard enough for before and by them telling me no, I dedicated a couple of summers of just tryout and trying to follow my dream. Without those people, I wouldn't be here."
Justin has "been here for 4 years and it has been an interesting journey and a pleasure."
"I love this club. I want to be here as long as possible," he said. "With Bedell and Clark -- the Detroit boys -- it's good to have a couple of Michiganders here."
About Steve Clark
Steve Clark was traded to the Crew in December 2013 from the Seattle Sounders. However, prior to coming to Columbus, Clark was the starting keeper at Honefoss BK in the Tippeligaen league, which is Norway's highest level of soccer competition.
Clark is from Mason, Mich. and played college ball at Oakland University. Initially, he was a walk-on at OU. He worked his way into the starting keeper role under coach Eric Pogue. In his last two years at OU, he was an All-Summit League player and was named Summit League Defensive Player of the year his senior year in 2008.
Clark played for the Premier Development League's (PDL) Michigan Bucks from 2006-2009, during which the Bucks won the National Championship in 2006. Clark was named the MVP in that championship year.
About Adam Bedell
Adam Bedell is a forward from Livonia, Mich. and attended the college combine hosted by the Crew in December 2013 He was selected by the Crew at 45th overall in the 3rd round of the MLS Superdraft in January 2014.
Bedell was a four-year varsity player at Livonia Churchill High School and went on to University of Detroit Mercy where he was named Horizon League Player of the Year his junior year. He also played with the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) team Detroit City FC in 2013, which earned 1st place that season in the Great Lakes Division with a record of 11-1-0.
Transitioning to the majors
Clark and Bedell discussed the differences in training from their time prior to the pros in NPSL and PDL.
"Obviously, there is a huge difference. At the time that I was playing for the Bucks, it was a good level and a good starter for me. It's a big jump from the pros and that level, but with that being said, it was a great place for me to be and for me to develop," said Clark. "I played for the Bucks for five years and had a good time. We won a lot of games and I feel it helped get me somewhat ready for this level."
Bedell said DCFC was "a great starting point."
"It helped me develop my college game and got me better to get to this point," he said. "The intensity here is so much greater, even in the training, it's just another level or two. For me, I came from U of D, a lesser-known college, and I had to work for everything I've gotten, nothing was given to me. I was not the highest recruited guy. There wasn't anyone saying, ‘Hey, look at that guy.' I had to work every day. For the younger guys, you have to put in the work every day. The extra work, you have to practice every day and you need to really do those things to get to this level."
Clark wants the soccer youth in Michigan to know that "it was always a daily effort."
"A lot of people get motivated for a week or two weeks but I was able to stay motivated for a long time," he said. "Adam, Justin and I are proof that the best players at 16 don't always end up being the best players overall. I was a walk-on in college and then took my long way around to make it into the pros, to where I'm at now. It's really about developing on that daily basis."
Proud to represent Michigan
Each player has his own fond memories and pride of soccer in Michigan. Meram recalled the college final 4 Big Ten Champs. He was proud to bring home that "first ever trophy for the university."
"Special moments playing for your home state making a run like that," he said.
Bedell said he feels there have been a lot of good memories in Michigan but one stands out.
"I'd have to say that winning the Horizon League Regular Season Championship with Detroit was a pretty special moment for me and the guys," he said.
Clark enjoyed the in-state rivalries.
"For me, it was always playing at Oakland versus Michigan State in the 1st round NCAA Tournament."
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