Just over a month ago, Charlotte FC made a significant announcement regarding the acquisition of Justin Meram through a trade with Real Salt Lake. The team had been facing challenges due to injuries to their veteran players, and as a result, young and inexperienced players were shouldering a heavy burden on the field. Recognizing the need for MLS veteran leadership, Head Coach Christian Lattanzio identified Justin Meram as the perfect fit, someone he had admired for a long time.
While Meram's experience and leadership off the pitch were unquestioned, given his impressive 13-year tenure in the league, no one could have predicted the immediate impact he would make on his new team. At 34 years old, Meram has defied age expectations and showcased his ability to perform at a high level on the field. In his nine appearances for Charlotte FC, he has contributed three goals and provided three assists, making him one of the most productive players for the team this season, tied for the second most goal contributions.
“The place has helped me... it's a very structured team and I feel at my best. My best years have been with the team that has had structure. I've been able to listen to what the coach has wanted, and being an offensive player, sometimes it's difficult to come in and contribute, so I've been pretty thankful that I've had the opportunity to execute.
“Credit to my teammates for putting me in good position to succeed. That's the biggest thing when it comes to a new team is how quickly you adapt to the style, to the locker room, and to the city. I've been around so I kind of have the blueprint of being traded midseason, so I was just I was just hopeful that my ability could help this team.”
When Meram arrived in Charlotte, he prioritized staying authentic despite his limited knowledge about the city, organization, and his new teammates. One crucial element that fuels his performances is laughter and having fun. In Charlotte, he discovered a group of individuals who were not only easy to connect with but also shared his enthusiasm for playful banter and laughter.
“It was about how do I come in here, put my head down, and work and contribute while also being me. I love the banter, I love making the guys laugh, and that's how I am. I play better when we're laughing in warm ups. That's just the way I am. If I'm too serious, or I'm too stiff, you're not going to get the best out of me. So, and I feel like I've done that [be himself]. I've connected with a good group of guys and it's been great.”
Amidst a squad that boasts a significant number of young talents, precisely eight players under the age of 23, Justin Meram has assumed the role of a mentor for the next generation—a responsibility he wholeheartedly embraces.
“I'm there for the young guys to be a leader, one that they can ask as they're starting their journey. I'm always there to ask. I'm like a sponge, all the information I've learned throughout the years is with me now. They can dissect me and ask any questions they have. I think I've played that mentor role pretty good, because I'm easy to talk to and I've been through multiple teams.”
With experience playing for multiple accomplished MLS teams and competing against them, including 19 MLS Playoff appearances and winning the U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup with Atlanta United, Justin Meram possesses valuable insights into what it takes for teams to flourish in this league. He firmly believes that his new team is heading in the right direction but emphasizes the need for patience without succumbing to complacency.
"I see a team that's going in the right direction. It's not going to be roses for any team, especially a new expansion team. I feel like there's been a lot of player turnovers from last year to this year, so it's still a new team in terms of players gelling and being together. You can grow and build off that and I think we're at a stage where we need to continue to have patience but not be complacent.
“Patient with the process of where we want to go, and how we want to play. We do go on the road and get big wins and we get big wins at home. It might not be every week, but we can't push the panic button, instead we have to be patient but not complacent. I think once we can build and have a core that stays together that drives the group with the quality that's being brought in."
As we have reached the halfway point of the MLS season, there is undeniable recognition that Meram's arrival has been a vital acquisition for the club, making an impact both on and off the pitch. Echoing Meram's sentiment, it is evident that patience will play a key role for Charlotte FC as they await full recovery from injuries, bolster their roster with summer reinforcements, and foster better team cohesion. Nevertheless, they must remain vigilant and guard against complacency to remain in playoff contention.