Orlando City's Justin Meram: Some markets are 'holding back MLS'
Orlando City forward Justin Meram says "certain markets" are "holding back MLS," while in central Florida the local team is more popular than the NBA's Orlando Magic.
Meram joined Orlando in January in a trade he requested after seven seasons with Columbus Crew SC, which is exploring a potential move to Austin, Texas, after its owner said the club was "unsustainable" in its current site.
But MLS has also found great success in new markets, after expanding to Orlando in 2015 and Atlanta and Minnesota last season, and in an interview with ESPN FC, Meram urged all of the league's clubs to follow their examples.
"I think there are certain markets that are kind of, maybe, holding back MLS," Meram told ESPN's Taylor Twellman in the Heineken Boot Room.
"Training facilities, stadium, fans, just kind of the whole package. You're seeing in Atlanta, LAFC, Portland, Seattle, here in Orlando, Kansas City, they're doing it right. And I think if you can get all the other clubs to get on board it's going to be a fantastic league the next 10, 20 years."
But overall, Meram said it was encouraging to witness how much MLS has grown since he entered the league -- to the point where he feels his club is more important to the city than the Orlando Magic.
Orlando City's records for last season say the MLS team averaged over 25,000 fans per game -- 98 percent of capacity -- while the Magic this season are averaging 17,900 fans -- 94 percent of capacity.
"To see where MLS was in 2011 to now, you see these training facilities, the players coming in, it's crazy to me to see how much it's grown and how impactful it is around communities now," he said. "It's fantastic.
"In Orlando here, the Magic is kind of, they're behind us. And for me that's fantastic."
And Meram added with a smile: "In Columbus, it was Ohio State [first] and I was dying because I'm a Michigan [alumnus], and thank God I'm out of that."
After some fans questioned what he meant by that, Meram posted on Twitter on Saturday night to emphasize that he was only joking about his personal experience in Columbus and backed Crew SC to stay in the city, writing:
My "thank god" comment was a sarcastic joke about being a Michigan man in Ohio. And I love Columbus & always will. Never spoke bad about the club esp the fans, coaches and my brothers I played with. I just could never support an owner moving the team. One love Cbus #SaveTheCrew https://t.co/Z7LU3wFt1S— Justin Meram (@JustinMeram) April 8, 2018
Meram, who also plays for the Iraq national team, also criticized MLS for continuing to use commercial flights, with Orlando facing a 2,200-mile flight to Vancouver in June.
Asked what one thing he would change about MLS, Meram said: "I honestly think charter flights -- every match. When I go overseas and I talk to my [Iraq] teammates playing -- Ali Adnan plays in Serie A for Udinese -- and sometimes it's a 30-minute bus ride, sometime it's an hour bus ride.
"For us, how big America is and Canada, flying to Vancouver you're having to stop somewhere, then you're having to get on a second flight, and then with the time change, and I think the level [of play] comes down a little bit.
"And for me, I think that you're seeing some of these teams flying maybe double the amount [of miles] as some of the other teams."
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