Justin Meram is the first player in Major League Soccer history to be called up to the Iraq National Team.
"All I ever wanted before was just to play the beautiful game of soccer," he said.
Now, he'll do that at the international level.
Meram is a Shelby Township native who recently had his No. 9 high school jersey retired at Utica Eisenhower High School. After a standout high school career, Meram went on to play at Yavapai Junior College and then transferred his junior year to play for the University of Michigan.
He was a standout again in college at the University of Michigan. His dream was to become a professional MLS player and on Jan. 14, 2011 it came true when the Columbus Crew selected him 15th overall. He saw his first action in the CONCACAF championships in February 2011 and made his MLS debut on May 28, 2011.
"When going from U of Michigan to Columbus Crew, it was a dream and once I got to this professional level I began to then to want to compete, play and contribute," said Meram. "This national call-up was the next level and I am thankful for it, that it came at this time. I will cherish this moment and enjoy it."
At 25 years old, Meram is undeniably at his best ever level of play in his career with the Columbus Crew. He has a career-high 32 appearances with 19 starts, a career-best 8 goals and 4 assists, and he is third on the club in scoring this year. There couldn't be a better time for him to be called up for international play with Iraq. He will represent his parents' native country, where he holds dual citizenship.
Meram feels he owes a lot to his family and friends, but also to the Columbus Crew.
"This is amazing. I cannot thank my family, friends and everyone with the Crew enough. Without them this dream wouldn't have been possible, and thank you to the coaches for believing in me," he said. "Greg Burhalter has brought out the best in my ability and I have to give him credit to his system, and his beliefs. He also brought on Josh Wolfe as an attacking coach and he has really helped me out a lot with my movement off the ball. Before, I used to have to play a more direct style and it didn't fit right for me. I feel I am playing fit and healthy and am ready for this experience."
To be successful, one needs to continue to set goals and continue to dream. After making it to the MLS, that is precisely what Meram began to do. He set his eyes on the Iraqi National Team, the next level of play.
"Iraq was my decision and goal and has always been my focus. It is my culture and I was born and raised with it," said Meram. "(It) has been a long time coming and preparing for, two years of organizing and paperwork and I am now playing the best soccer that I ever have and am so happy that it came now."
When asked if he has talked to any of his teammates for advice or about experiencing international play and travel -- Meram has never been out of the United States -- he said that he spoke with Kevan George about playing in Saudi Arabia. George is on the Trinidad and Tobago national team and has played in Saudi Arabia. He helped Meram with what it is like there and the sights and places to go.
Meram also spoke with fellow teammate Tyson Wahl about long flights and how to prepare and pack for them including snacks, sleep and anything else that might help make him feel more comfortable with the approximate 12-hour flight.
He has been talking frequently with his Iraq teammates so he can help acclimate himself with the team and the style of play as much as possible before he arrives. He said that they run a 4-4-2 format and he is looking forward to getting together finally with those teammates and training with them.
"Playing with Iraq will help develop and open my eyes to a whole different level of soccer and I am just taking everything in. There is a rich tradition in Iraq and this Golf Cup is a huge tournament," he said.
Despite never being overseas and the issues or concerns that others have with security and travel, Meram feels very secure and he knows that where the national team will be that he will be OK with them. He is just extremely happy for this opportunity.
His parents and family members cannot make the trip to see him play this time -- especially with the quick turnaround from the Crew just ending their playoff chances on Sunday and Meram leaving from Boston. However, he hopes that "in the near future they will be able to attend some international games."
"I talk about my national pride for Iraq all of the time with the guys in the locker room and to friends outside of soccer and everywhere and how proud I am to be able to wear the Iraq jersey. This is a dream come true. I will probably have goosebumps and get teary eyed when I first put it on. Cannot wait for the moment, and I will cherish it for the rest of my life."
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