With his career peaking at age 35, Ream looking to boost the USMNT in Qatar
November 14, 2022
JUST A LITTLE over a week ago, Tim Ream was not thinking about playing at the World Cup. He had not been with the United States national team in 14 months and at the age of 35, he figured his time in the international game was now over. With Fulham's season set for a break, Ream and his family had a vacation planned – but all that changed with one phone call from Gregg Berhalter. Not a stranger towards these types of matters, Ream postponed his honeymoon in 2012 so he could secure a Premier League transfer from the New York Red Bulls to Bolton. Ten years later, a family holiday would now have to wait for another momumental occassion.
The reason this time was simple. Ream was named by Berhalter to the United States team for the 2022 World Cup.
The first nine months of 2021 were actually a good period for Ream internationally. In the summer of June 2021, he started in an important 3-2 win over Mexico in the final of the CONCACAF Nations League. In September, he got a surprising start over John Brooks in the opening World Cup qualifier against El Salvador and earned positive reviews in a 0-0 draw.
But the following month, Ream withdrew from the October qualifiers for family reasons. Since then, Ream was in contact with the national team’s staff ahead of every camp but invites were not a part of it. The calls were simply to explain why he wasn’t coming in.
The call earlier this month was much different.
“It's down to other people's decisions whether you are in a squad,” Ream told American Soccer Now. “I didn't necessarily agree with it. Those are the decisions you kind of have to accept sometimes. That's why I kind of started to make peace with it and started to make plans to go on holiday with my kids and my wife. All that got thrown out the window with one simple phone call [laughs].”
“I'm beyond excited,” he added. “I've worked my entire career for this kind of opportunity to play in a World Cup. It was unexpected. I kind of made peace with that situation.”
It is easy to see why Ream has forced his way back onto the team. His numbers since the start of the 2021/22 season have been phenomenal with Fulham and it is exceedingly rare to see a player in his mid-30’s play the best soccer of his career.
At the tail end of the 2020/21 season when Fulham’s relegation out of the Premier League was known, Ream returned to the team’s starting lineup and impressed down the stretch. That form carried over into that summer under new manager Marco Silva.
In the 2021/22 Championship season, Ream played 4071 out of a possible 4140 minutes as Fulham cruised to promotion while winning the league. Through the first 15 games of this Premier League season, Ream has played 1348 out of 1350 minutes and Fulham sits comfortably in ninth place. In total since August 2021, Ream has played 5419 out of a possible 5490 minutes (98.7%) at a time when Fulham has won the Championship and managed to stay in the top 10 of the Premier League.
“I hate to talk about me personally, but I think the last 18 months have been without a doubt some of the best that I've played. It’s certainly the best I've felt physically and mentally,” Ream said. “I still feel that I have a good solid three or four years left in my body. Age is just a number. It is just a limiter. It restricts you from doing whatever you want as soon as you start thinking, ‘I'm getting old or I'm this, I'm that’. I joke about being old - but I don't feel it. I train hard every day and look to learn something new and improve.”
“I am not worried about whether I'm going to be injured or not or worry about if I'm going to play or not,” he added. “I'm not worried about making mistakes. It's just going out with a freedom that I've finally figured out at 34 last year in the Championship and I've just carried that over into this season.”
For Berhalter, he pointed out that the decision to bring Ream back into the team was an easy one. When highlighting the increased level of the World Cup, he felt Ream was very prepared for it – which could hint that Ream might see significant minutes in Qatar.
“In Tim's case, he was in the Premier League three years ago, he struggled,” Berhalter said. “Their whole team struggled. He went to the Championship and started to perform better. They got promoted. Now he's in the Premier League and he's a top performer for his team. It's really hard to ignore stuff like that. By the way, he's a guy who has been with us since day one. To me, all the pieces were aligned for me to bring him back into the squad.”
“In my opinion, there is a difference between qualifying in CONCACAF and playing in the World Cup,” he stressed. “With Tim, based on what we're seeing and the level he's playing at, he's ready to play in a World Cup, for sure... When we go back to Tim, it's really not a difficult one. He's playing in the best league in the world and he's playing at a high level.”
There are also the issues of leadership, and this has been one of the biggest attributes Ream has brought to the table wherever he goes. The United States boasts one of the youngest rosters in Qatar and Ream, Aaron Long, and backup goalkeeper Sean Johnson are the only three players over 30 and 14 of the players are aged 25 or younger.
Fulham captain Tom Cairney was injured most of last season, and Ream stepped into the role. This season, Ream has worn the armband in most of Fulham’s 15 Premier League games. Fellow U.S. international Antonee Robinson is in his third season as Fulham’s left back and has developed a bond with Ream both on and off the field. He is quick to point out Ream’s immense value off the field.
“Tim was pretty much the captain most of last season,” Robinson said during the preseason. “He started every game which - for someone his age to start every game in the Championship and perform as well as he did - it's nothing short of incredible, to be honest. He has a real calmness on the ball and a warrior spirit. He was fighting, throwing his head into tackles, getting cut every week. To have that as one of your baseline players, it really does lift the team.”
“Off the pitch, he was basically taking on the duties of being co-captain almost with Tom,” Robinson continued. “When it came to speaking to the management, staff and things like that, trying to organize stuff off the field and making sure that all the lads were happy and all the coaching staff were happy, and that we were working in unison - he was huge for us.”
Ream knows that he will be expected to be leader on the U.S. team provide a veteran experience. While he has not been with the team recently, he knows the players well. DeAndre Yedlin is the only player on the roster who has played at a World Cup, but Ream is the only player on the team who played in competitive tournaments under Bob Bradley, Jurgen Klinsmann, and Berhalter.
But captaining a Premier League team also brings another level of maturity to a very young team. Ream knows the quality of the young players on the team, but he is looking forward to trying to bring out the most in their abilities at the World Cup.
“I'm not one of these guys that's going to get in people's faces and be ‘rah rah’ and yell and shout,” Ream said. “It's more of an understanding of kind of everyone's needs and who they are as people and who they are as players - and what I can do to help them get the best out of themselves. That's kind of the way I approach leadership. These guys don't need me to tell them how to play and or how good they are or what they need to do differently. They are all playing at big clubs. It's just little things, maybe seeing things a little bit differently, communicating a little bit differently.”
Ream has enjoyed his time with the U.S. team this cycle and he appreciates this generation of players. He also offers a wider perspective about looking at American soccer. He has seen young generations that have failed to live up to expectations. In relation to that, he has also seen a once successful generation struggle to keep pace at the end or their prime years during the failed 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign – which he was part of.
Much has been written about this generation of young American players and while they generate a lot of attention being signed to top clubs, Ream loves their determination to prove themselves.
“In terms of this generation, they play with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder,” Ream explained. “Gio is probably the best example of someone who plays with a little bit of a fire, a little bit of anger, a little bit of an edge. They just don't really have a fear because they know that they're good. And that can a good trait to have going into big games. That's where their strength lies... they don't care who's on the other side of the pitch.”
Ream knows he is in the twilight of his career. He is an example of how some players peak much later in their careers. This month, it will be the World Cup. In early 2023, Ream will attempt to lead Fulham to a top 10 finish in the Premier League. After that there will be added discussions over his future. Fulham perhaps will look to keep him around. There are also could be potential possibilities with St. Louis City SC, as the team prepares for its inaugural MLS season in Ream’s hometown.
For now, he is just trying to take it all in.
"The other part is having that mentality of just being free and knowing that I'm kind at the end of the rope,” Ream said. “I'm almost at the end. I want to soak up and play as much as I possibly can because it's fun for me. I love playing and I love training. It's one of those things that I kind of changed a little bit in the past 18 months, and it's really worked for me.”