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Tim Ream: For Country or Club?

(Tim Spyers/Icon Sportswire)

After the U.S. Men’s National Team’s most recent fixtures—a 6-1 comeback win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and a 0-0 draw against Trinidad and Tobago in World Cup Qualifying—the new name on many fans’ lips is Bobby Wood. And for good reason.

Wood has been in scintillating form for the United States this year, having scored winning goals against the Netherlands and Germany in the same week, and then bagging both a goal and an assist in the Americans’ first World Cup Qualifier.

Taking nothing away from the young Union Berlin striker, there’s another American whose recent performances have garnered less attention, but should be considered a very strong cement for his place in the squad: Tim Ream.

Although, during his time in MLS from 2010-11, Ream played frequently at center back with the New York Red Bulls, he’s also comfortable playing at left back, which is where Jurgen Klinsmann deployed him in the United States’ World Cup Qualifiers this month. And that’s precisely how Ream looked: comfortable. If the first goal in the game against St. Vincent and the Grenadines was caused by faulty defending, it should be noted that it came from the right-hand side, not Ream’s territory down the left.

In fact, throughout the match, Ream not only dominated play down the left hand channel defensively, he also pushed forward in attack. And when he did, Tim Ream did not appear to be a clunky center-back-cum-defensive-winger; he looked dangerous, and more than once, beat players on the dribble, pushing his team forward. Although, in the second match against Trinidad and Tobago, Ream was subbed off during the second half in favor of Darlington Nagbe’s more potent offensive prowess, he still had a solid game, helping his side to a clean sheet, and nearly setting up a Jozy Altidore goal in the 21st minute off his throw in.

He may not be a new face, he may not be an exciting goal-scorer, but Tim Ream anchored the United States in their first two qualifiers. Amid Klinsmann’s nearly-constant tinkering, U.S. fans ought to hope he can continue to do so.

Ream’s Story

Ream played soccer at Saint Louis University, and during the summers, played in the USL development league with Chicago. His first professional senior team contract came with the New York Red Bulls after being drafted in 2010. Ream played two seasons with the Red Bulls, quickly solidifying his place as one of the team’s first defenders, and ultimately earning himself a move to Europe, where he signed with Bolton.

Five years Wood’s senior at age 28, Ream’s international debut is already more than five years behind him—but that doesn’t mean his place in the current team isn’t a recent development. In 2010, Ream made his senior USMNT debut in a friendly against South Africa, as then-coach Bob Bradley looked to experiment with the squad after falling to Ghana in the World Cup.

Ream earned the manager’s trust, and was one of the team’s staple players for much of 2011 leading into the Gold Cup. In the tournament itself, however, Bradley lost faith in Ream, who was replaced by Eric Lichaj after a loss to Panama in the group stage.

Ream rode the bench for the remainder of the tournament, and didn’t receive another call up for more than two years.

But even as his U.S. career faltered, Ream was making waves across the pond. Ream flourished with Bolton Wanderers, earning himself player of the year honors in both 2013-14 and 2014-15 consecutively. Bolton rewarded Ream not only with regular playing time and MVP accolades, but also with the No. 5 shirt, a sign of the manager’s trust in the player, and a number last worn at Bolton by Gary Cahill. And now, thankfully, Klinsmann has taken note, and brought Ream back into the fold for the USMNT.

Another Rough Sunderlanding?

This summer, Ream transferred from Bolton to Fulham, where he signed a four-year contract. Fulham, unfortunately, have found it rough going this season. Winless in their previous four games, the Cottagers currently sit 12th in the English Championship, with any hopes for promotion to the Premier League dwindling further with each point dropped. Things are so bad that, just before the international break, it was announced that the club had fired manager Kit Symons. Symons had himself taken over just last September as an attempt to staunch the bleeding after a previous dismal run of form.

When Fulham took the field against MK Dons this past weekend—only managing a point in their 1-1 draw from a match they arguably should have won comfortably—the team was without a manager on the pitch. Also absent, despite his strong showing for the United States, was Tim Ream, who was not even named on the bench.

When looking at Tim Ream’s current club situation, it’s hard not to think of Jozy Altidore. After two fantastic seasons with AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch Eredivise, seasons in which Altidore first led the team in scoring, then scored a crucial goal in a cup final and earned himself a place in the Dutch team of the season, Altidore was keen to move to England. Perhaps unadvisedly, Altidore ultimately secured a transfer from AZ to Sunderland.

And then things went pear-shaped.

Altidore, along with Sunderland as a whole, struggled mightily, only managing to score three goals in more than 50 appearances with the club. Altidore had no illusions the situation. Just over one year ago, he went on the record saying he might have to move to another club in order to keep his national team hopes alive.

“Jurgen [Klinsmann] makes his messages very clear, and nobody is different. If it doesn’t turn around, in January then I’ll be looking to start elsewhere, and make sure I’m in his plans going forward.”

Ream, sadly, may now be in the same Jozy-boat. With Fulham floundering, and any new manager likely under pressure to experiment with team dynamics, Ream has left a squad wherein he was the first name on the team sheet for one that may not have a regular place for him—something that, whatever his fetish for European club players, Klinsmann insists upon for call ups to the USMNT.

Can Tim Ream come back, follow in Clint Dempsey’s footsteps and earn himself the status of Craven Cottage’s current ‘real American hero’? Maybe. But regardless of whether it’s in London, back home in MLS, or any other professional league, Tim Ream needs playing time. And as his performances in World Cup Qualifying this month proved, the United States need an in-form Tim Ream.

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