Sunday, December 21, 2014

"It’s not your day-to-day club game," Justin Meram, Iraqi International

Justin Meram was recently selected to play for the Iraq National team. He'll likely join the team again when Iraq plays in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup that runs through January. Here is his experience getting called up, in his words, as told to Cody Sharrett of It's a fairly rare thing, this. Rarer still is a Michigan player with MLS that has been called up for a national team in the Middle East. Particularly Iraq.

"I was kind of nervous at first, getting there and getting used to the language and everything."

"The guys were great. Maybe five or six guys speak English as well as Arabic. The guys helped me out, teaching me more and more of the language. The first session was good. Soccer, football is football wherever you’re at. Playing with them was probably the easiest part for me. Off the field, Yaser Kasim and Ahmed Yasin from Örebro in Sweden — he was teammates with Mohammed Saeid — those two guys are probably who I’m closest with because they’ve spoken English their whole life as well… We have a good understanding of each other."

"It was tough. At first I didn’t think I was going to start, but I had a really good session. It’s a tournament, and you have to put your best team out there. I was very fortunate to be there for 36 hours in Riyadh and start the game after those guys had been training for about 10 days together. It was unbelievable."

"It almost went by too quick, but I still remember the first five to 10 minutes," he explained. "It was very, very tough for me to get used to the style. It’s very hard-nosed, and you’re playing for your country so every game matters. Everyone’s always watching. Everyone [in Iraq] is watching, so it really took me a few minutes. Then I decided, ‘I have to get used to this quickly, or it’s going to be a long night.’ I adjusted great and that was probably the best game I played."

"I took a lot [from the Gulf Cup]. You want to win, but at the same time, those tournaments are to prepare you for the Asian Cup and that’s the prize. That’s the goal for this upcoming January. I’m glad I was able to get my feet wet. I got to know the guys. Everyone is happy I’m around. It’s a good group. I think it was important to get out there, and get used to [international play]."

"It took a lot to understand how international soccer is played. Everyone talks about it, but until you’re actually physically playing it in these countries and these environments, it’s extremely different. It’s not your day-to-day club game, I can tell you that much... Iraq won it in 2007, right? So that’s the goal. 2011, they came up short, so hopefully we can bring joy to our great country by winning the Asian Cup. That would be a dream. That’s first and foremost. We want to get out of our group. It’s a tough group: leading it is Japan, and then you have Palestine and Jordan. We have to get results against Palestine and Jordan for sure, and hopefully get a result against Japan."

"[The fan response] is honestly very overwhelming," he said. "They’re just so happy I chose to play for Iraq and I try to help out as much as I can. If soccer can bring so much joy to them, then half of our job is done. The other half is on the field and getting results. The people are amazing and football is massive in Iraq."

"We know how much it means to the country every time we play."


International experience in Columbus has been light the last few years but we've seen it return a bit with Gregg Berhalter. Meram's experience has already been pretty remarkable, I'm thinking 2015 holds more. The above is gold dust. A player experiencing international play for the first time. One of the many reasons I love this sport.

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