Meram picked soccer over gridiron

Michigan standout donned pads, but heart was in beautiful game

LEWIS CENTER, Ohio – The Columbus Crew's second pick at the MLS SuperDraft briefly led a dual life at the University of Michigan.

Like former Crew-player-turned-Ohio-State-kicker Devin Barclay, former Michigan forward Justin Meram put on the pads and helmet.

“I kicked in the spring game and suited up for the first game vs. UConn this past year,” he said. “It was a good experience, but it got to the point where I had to choose. This is where my heart is at. My life and my focus is on the Crew. I don’t even think about football anymore.”

Meram spent two seasons on the Michigan soccer team after transferring from Yavapai College in Arizona, where he helped the team to consecutive junior college championships in 2007 and ’08. He finished second on the school’s all-time scoring list with 51 goals.

The Shelby Township, Mich., native then decided to complete his collegiate career in familiar territory.

“When I was at Arizona junior college, my brothers were in the Big Ten, so that’s where I wanted to end up,” he said.

One brother, Irvin, attended Ohio State, while Meram’s other brother, Jason, went to Michigan State.

“I picked the right school,” Meram said.

The Wolverines are glad he did. The striker finished with 24 goals in two seasons and the Wolverines reached the 2010 College Cup semifinals.

Although Meram is a Michigan man now in the heart of Buckeye country, he has quickly developed a following in Columbus through Twitter.

“It’s my personality,” he said. “I love meeting new people. I love the supporters. At Michigan, we had this supporting group called the Ultras.

“That helped our season. When you connect with the guys on that level, you want to play for your team and them,” he added. “Now that I’m here, the guys at Nordecke are following me on Twitter. It’s awesome. I can’t wait to play in front of them and have them cheer me on.”

STILL WAITING — Forward Jeff Cunningham remained unsigned as of Thursday afternoon, but team president Mark McCullers is hopeful the two sides will reach a deal after the veteran striker showed up at Crew preseason training on his own this week.

“I’m still cautiously optimistic,” McCullers said. “The fact is [Cunningham] is here. He wants to be here. We want him here. I’ve always said when two parties want the same thing, they figure out how to get it done. We just need to get the details done.”

While there is no cutoff date to sign, the Crew depart for Arizona on Saturday to continue preseason training. They host Real Salt Lake in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals on Feb. 22.

“If we can’t get it finalized in the next couple of days, that probably doesn’t bode well,” McCullers said. “I don’t know if that’s a deadline necessarily, but it’s a meaningful timeline because we want him in Phoenix for sure.”