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Left off U.S. Squad, Tim Ream Thriving at Bolton

The former New York Red Bull defender struggled throughout the 2012-13 campaign, but things are looking up for Tim Ream and the Bolton Wanderers. Brian Sciaretta reports.

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
November 12, 2013
6:06 PM
TWELVE MONTHS AGO Tim Ream was mired in the most difficult period of his career.

He had signed with Bolton Wanderers early in 2012 to help the then-Premier League club in its relegation fight, but those efforts proved to be unsuccessful. The following season, back in the second-tier English Championship, Ream struggled to find minutes.

It was more of the same at the start of the 2013-14 season: Ream was uncertain of his place with Bolton, and the Wanderers began the season in the basement of the Championship.

In late September, however, both Ream and Bolton experienced a reversal of fortune. Ream has played an integral role in leading the defense and the club has now won two straight and three out of five. Its last loss came on September 21, a span of seven games. In Bolton's most recent match, Ream’s stunning assist capped off a 3-1 win over Millwall, lifting the club to within three points of 13th place.

“To be honest, I’m feeling really confident right now,” Ream told American Soccer Now. “It’s been a solid run of games. I was able to do that when I first came over and there is nothing like playing in the Premier League, but with last year being such a tough year for me it’s nice to be able to come in and contribute to help the team in any way I can.”

Those difficult times spilled over into Ream’s life away from soccer as well. His wife had given up her job to move to England with him, and life was difficult as he struggled to get off the bench. Flash forward to this year, however, and the mood is quite different. Ream has been named Bolton's Man of the Match in multiple games by various publications, and life away from the game is on the uptick as well.

“It’s night and day compared with last year because last year was a struggle even off the field,” he said. “You try to separate the two but they boil over into each other. I think right now we’re in a good spot. My wife has the same job she did in New York. Her company got her the same job here. Now she is actually pregnant so things off the field are incredible and obviously things on the field are going well. It’s all kind of fallen into place the past few months but things can change just as quickly as things did before."

"But I’m loving life.”

So far this year Ream, 26, has already played 972 minutes—already approaching his season-long total of 1,178 minutes from 2012-13. But he's taking nothing for granted. He knows better.

“When you go through a stretch like that, and the reason you came over here is to play some games at a higher level, to not be playing is the most frustrating thing for any player," he said. "I don’t think I had any regrets, but there were times I caught myself questioning whether we did make the right choice moving over here. It’s one of those things where it’s a matter of putting your head down and waiting for your chance. Fortunately I’ve been able to take my chance and run with it.”

Dealing with the intense scrutiny of playing in England is not always easy for American players accustomed to the mild coverage in the U.S. Ream, however, credits his time with the New York Red Bulls for easing the transition. Ream had to deal with the pressure of the New York media early in his soccer career, and adjusting to the English media was not a drastic step up.

“Even if you’re not from New York, you hear about the fans in New York and how much pressure they put on their star athletes,” Ream explained. “You kind of feel it but the fans of the Red Bulls are incredible. You talk to them and you can connect to them because they are so passionate about the city and sports. It definitely helped when coming over here because you knew what kind of pressure there would be because you did feel it in New York. It helped me to start in New York.”

Drafted by the Red Bulls with the 18th overall pick in the 2010 MLS draf, Ream emerged as one of the top rookies in MLS and was a finalist for Rookie of the Year (won by Andy Najar). In his second year, he experienced some growing pains but played well enough to earn a contract from Bolton Wanderers.

Ream looks back fondly at his Red Bulls days, and he follows the team’s and the league’s progress on a almost-daily basis. He is thrilled with New York’s progress in 2013 where the club won the Supporter’s Shield for its first ever trophy in its 18 year existence. “For them to pick up a Supporters' Shield with Mike [Petke] as a first-year head coach is incredible,” Ream said. “To get that the team to gel in the way he did—and what people don’t realize is how hard it is to get a team like that to gel—for him to be able to do that is absolutely impressive. For him to be the coach and to get them their first trophy is something that he’ll always remember."

"That’s just a small step on the road in what he’s going to do to New York.”

Watching Ream these days for Bolton, it is clear he is a different player now than he was during his Red Bull days. It’s not simply a matter of improved confidence either. He has always been known for his superior passing out of the backline but he has worked hard to add a physical dimension to his game.

There is also the issue of versatility. Central defense is still Ream's main position but this season he has played all over the pitch: defensive midfield, right back, and left back.

“I’ve become a better player,” Ream said. “My positioning has always been a strong suit but I think it has gotten better. I’ve become more physical without going overboard. I’ve learned to separate when I need to be physical and when I don’t. That’s something that’s really helped me, especially this year.”

Bolton manager Dougie Freedman agrees that Ream has improved and he even believes that the former St. Louis University standout is one of the best defenders in the Championship.

“He is really in top condition," Freedman recently told the media. “In the afternoons when one or two of the lads will be on their way home, he is out there with the coaches working on his heading and on his technique. Don’t think he has just walked into the team and got lucky with a bit of form. He has worked hard to get to the position he’s in right now. Tim has adjusted and taken on board that this division is a bit more physical. He hasn’t bulked up but he has become more mobile in his strength. He is stronger but he has kept that flexibility. And that is even harder to do."

I think he is probably one of the best technical defenders in the division," Freedman said, "very comfortable and composed on the ball, and he reads situations very well."

Despite the improvement, Ream was not addd to the U.S. national team roster for the upcoming friendlies against Scotland and Austria. Bolton did reveal that Ream was on the national team’s standby list in case of an injury.

It's been a while since Ream has represented his country. He has not played for the U.S. since a 1-0 loss to Ecuador in October, 2011. He was last called up by Jugen Klinsmann in August for a friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina but was an unused substitute. In Bosnia, however, he did have a long conversation Klinsmann about where he stood on the team. Klinsmann made it clear to Ream that the national team staff is monitoring his progress in England.

Now that he is playing better, Ream admits that he thinks about the national team more than he had in the past. While he’s disappointed when he is not called in, he knows that his opportunity to return to the national team will be determined solely on how he plays for Bolton—and that will only be a matter of time if he continues on his current trajectory.

“I think it creeps in especially those couple few weeks before friendlies or qualifiers and you know those e-mails are going to be sent out letting you know if you’re going to be called up," he said. "It definitely creeps in, but at the same time it doesn’t really matter."

"At the end of the day, if you’re not performing with your club the chances of getting called in are pretty slim. I try to put those thoughts aside and concentrate on everything here with Bolton. Obviously everybody’s dream is to play in a World Cup, and that’s in the back of mind. But I can only control my play at Bolton. If I play well, that puts me in good position and gives the U.S. staff something to think about.

"That’s all I can really do.”

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