ORLANDO, Fla. — While Stefano Pinho stole the show on Saturday night with his game-tying goal in the 93rd minute, Justin Meram was arguably the talk of the town after the match following his debut for Orlando City in the Lions’ 1-1 comeback draw against D.C. United at Orlando City Stadium.
Meram went the distance in his first match in purple since Orlando acquired him from the Columbus Crew in late January, and was a catalyst in the attack for the Lions on a night when they struggled to get much through D.C.’s backline.
“I thought Justin was absolutely fantastic for us tonight,” Lions head coach Jason Kreis said after the game. “It was so many times where the ball would be played into him and things were looking really tight and he opened it up with a fantastic first touch or a fantastic half a turn. And some of the incisive passes that he was playing through the lines were fantastic.”
Meram’s performance helped overshadow a rocky first half for Orlando that saw two controversial VAR calls go against them, included one that resulted in a red card and putting the team down to 10 men for the final 55 minutes of the match.
Orlando City knew what they were getting in Meran when they sent $1,050,000 in total allocation to Columbus for him, and on Saturday night he showed the fans a level of field awareness and technical skill that we’ve only seen from the likes of Kaká suiting up for the Lions in the team’s three previous seasons in MLS. Midfield wingers like Matias Perez Garcia and Kevin Molino were creative attackers, but neither could make attempts on passes and situations like Meram did against D.C. United. And all of this was without the help of Dom Dwyer, Sacha Kljestan, and Josue Coleman, three important attacking pieces that missed the match due to injuries and suspension.
“I’m a veteran in this league and I was brought here to bring quality. That’s what I have to do each and every game,” Meram said after the match. “That’s how my role was in my previous clubs, passing, moving, shooting, crossing, combinations, and I think that’s what makes me dangerous at times.”
Meram lead both teams with four chances created, finished with 84 percent passing accuracy, and another game-high in five dribbles.
“I think Justin for me was a top performer tonight,” Kreis said. “Really, really pleased with his performance. But I think there’s more there. And I think there will be more there as we go along through the season. This is the first game of the year. First real test for our players. The combinations were good but I still think it can get a little bit better.”
The Lions will rely on Meram to drive the attack again next week with Kljestan out again while serving a two game suspension when the Lions host Minnesota United on Saturday night.