Columbus forward Justin Meram is the first MLS player to receive a callup to the Iraq national team. He will join his national team ahead of the Gulf Cup in Saudi Arabia.
Greg Bartram/Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
Justin Meram first heard about the opportunity of a lifetime about 18 months ago. His exploits in Columbus placed him firmly on the radar of the Iraq national team. He just needed to place himself into a position to transform his dream into reality.
Meram grew up in Shelby Township, Mich., but he qualified for Iraqi citizenship through his parents. Those links – fostered by his mother, Lamia, and his father, Hikmat, during his childhood in a suburb outside of Detroit – paved the way for him to proceed through the process of obtaining his passport over past few months.
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"It’s been a year and a half, two years where my name has always been mentioned, but it was probably the past six or seven months where the ball was really moving with my paperwork," Meram explained. "Both of my parents were born and raised back home. It was just a combination of a lot of people putting the pieces together and getting my passport and my dual citizenship."
The necessary approvals and papers came through about a month ago and removed the last hurdles along the way. He received the news shortly thereafter: Iraq national team manager Hakeem Shaker included him in the squad to play in the Gulf Cup this month.
Meram will link up with his new teammates in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia ahead of the team’s first Group B fixture against Kuwait on Friday. Iraq is also scheduled to play Oman (Nov. 17) and United Arab Emirates (Nov. 20) during the round-robin phase of the tournament.
"It’s a huge honor," Meram said. "I’m blessed with the opportunity with all of the people back there with the national team, the coach, the managers. Some of the players – (Örebro midfielder) Ahmed Yasin, (Swindon Town midfielder) Yaser Kasim, — have really just talked to me and helped me understand everything. I have to be thankful to those guys."
The former Michigan star, 25, will transition to the international stage at the perfect time. He just completed his best season as a professional (eight goals and four assists in 32 appearances for the Crew this season) and underscored his potential to transition to a higher level. He will join his national side ahead of one major tournament and receive a chance to stake his claim for a regular place ahead of the Asian Cup in January.
Most importantly, Meram will have the chance to represent his country for the first time. It is a landmark moment for him and his family as his journey into the national side concludes and his quest to establish himself in the squad commences.
"They’re very excited," Meram said. "That’s where they were born and raised. That’s where they grew up. To play for our country and our culture that we were a part of is special. I know they’re going to be very emotional and happy that I’m going to be playing for a great nation."