The rare talent of Red Bull rookie Tim Ream

By Paul Gardner

The Red Bulls find themselves in unfamiliar territory, sitting on top the world. The world of the MLS Eastern Conference, I mean. Not that big a world, true, but the Red Bulls top-dog position is pretty impressive. As impressive as their new stadium. What has not been so impressive is the playing form of the team.

Saturday night’s 2-1 win over Dallas, frankly, made no sense at all. Not that soccer results have to make sense, but as Coach Hans Backe admitted. “I don’t see how we won this game, with all the chances Dallas had ...”

Quite. The Bulls’ defense has not been exactly water-tight. Once again goalkeeper Bouna Condoul was called on to make three or four very good saves -- while, down at the other end, Dallas keeper Dario Sala had little to do.

Even so ... there is good news to be found at the heart of the Bulls’ defense. The good news is called Tim Ream, the left-footed center back from St. Louis University picked up in the second round of this year’s draft.

Ream has already secured a starting position. He plays calmly and confidently, if not always perfectly. His performance against Dallas is worth studying. For a start, his direct opponent for most of the game was Jeff Cunningham -- quite probably the quickest and the wiliest forward in MLS. So it was going to be a difficult evening for Ream. So it proved. Cunningham outmaneuvered Ream on three occasions, any one of which could have resulted in a Dallas goal, but the Bulls escaped each time.

OK, so Ream has a lot to learn. After all, he’s a rookie, he’s young. Well, he’s actually 22, not all that young -- the blight of college has unquestionably held him back. Because there is a rare talent here. As his inexperience fades away -- he will surely learn quickly -- then we shall get a really good look at the immensely positive quality that Ream brings. And a very rare quality it is -- something that you feel must be an inborn, natural talent.

I’m talking about the manner in which Ream plays his position, that of a central defender (growing up, he seems to have played most defensive and midfield positions, but says that center back is where he likes best to play). Backe says, “He looks like a European center back, very calm on the ball, very precise in the build up, never under pressure, he doesn’t get nervous ...” Apart from that bit about being “like a European,” that’s a pretty good summary. I’d say Ream is more like a South American center back, who, on the whole are better on the ball.

But Ream’s game, viewed as a whole, adds up to something more exciting than the sum of those parts. I can define the quality in one word: Ream is a player. This is rare among American center backs. They are usually chosen for their size and their ruggedness, they have to be good, or at least intimidating, in the air, they have to tackle hard. Anything beyond that is a bonus. But Ream has plenty beyond yet, particularly when it comes to distributing the ball.

Center backs, especially Europeans, are not known as great passers of the ball. The Dutch had, probably still have, the notion that when they play England, they try to make sure that it is the English center backs who play the ball out of defense -- because the pass will be lousy, and the Dutch will get the ball back.

Against Dallas, by my somewhat reliable count, Ream had 25 opportunities, with the ball at his feet, to find a teammate. He did so 19 times, sometimes under pressure. The other passes went astray, but even so you could see that they were intended as passes, there was intelligence behind them. Only once, and not until the 55th minute, did Ream make what one has come to expect from center backs, the standard “clearance,” whacking the ball hard, way downfield, to no one at all. Just that once. As for those super-powerful but aimless “clearing” headers so beloved of English center backs -- there were none to be seen.

This desire, and ability, to play constructively is quite unusual. So unusual that it actually worries some coaches, who prefer to see the ball belted away as quickly as possible.

That’s not for Ream, who looks for and usually finds a teammate. You have to wonder where that preference comes from. Ream says that he never had a favorite player, an idol on whom to model his play -- “I didn’t go to kick around in the backyard thinking ‘I’m this player, or that player ...’” Nor is there any soccer background from his family -- he has three brothers, but they’re all younger.

His talent, then really does seem to have arisen naturally, it is not an imitation of anything that he has seen in other players. It is, I think, a talent that would actually be better suited to playing in a deeper position, that of sweeper. I can’t comment on Ream’s tackling ability -- he does very little tackling, and that is partly a tribute to his positional sense, and his quick thinking -- interception rather than intervention.

Finally, there is the fact that Ream has never been selected to play for any U.S. national team at any level. At first that seems curious, but maybe it is perfectly logical. The evidence is that, certainly at the senior level, U.S. coaches prefer hard-nosed, no-nonsense defenders. A center back who is also a player, who wants to play his position skillfully and constructively, is more than likely to be viewed uneasily. For a national team player, Tim Ream, I think, is slightly ahead of his time.

13 comments about "The rare talent of Red Bull rookie Tim Ream".
  1. Walt Pericciuoli, April 19, 2010 at 9:52 a.m.

    Following the Metro/Red Bulls through the years, Tim Ream is certainly a ray of hope. It is a shame that he has been below the radar screen (college) all this time and probably will not get a look for this years World Cup, but to me he seems already head and shouders above some of the defenders playing in MLS that are being looked at. Once again, a glaring example of the poor effectivness of our current player selection process.Let's hope that Bob departs from his rigid selection mode and brings to camp Ream as well as Bubdle and Gomez

  2. Mark Edge, April 19, 2010 at 3:30 p.m.

    Again Mr.Gardner's disdain for all things European, specifically English is routinely purile. I think you'll find that English clubs have produced some of the best centre-halfs in the world, the current crop is no exception. His ignorance as to the role of the position is manifest. The pass completion rate of Terry, Ferdinand, Upson Dawson et al means we would welcome the dutch idea of forcing them to play out of the back, or even hit a penetrating long ball, either executed with a large success rate. Once again Gardner's somewhat juvenile dig at the English game takes away from the good points he makes about the topic he is writing about.

  3. Joe Linzner, April 19, 2010 at 4:31 p.m.

    It is a fallacy to say that Europeans blast the ball clear with a hope an prayer and I simply do not understand how such analysis is developed. Rareley does that happen in England and certainly not Germany, Holland or Spain where ball control is quite simply the constant. As long as the other team does not have the ball they cannot score. I have been involved in this game since I was old enough to trip over a size 5 ball at three years old. And beginning with my very first lesson in higher forms of soccer in Europe, where I was born, the tenet is do not dribble unnecessarily, (two or three touches max. Unless extinuating circumstances dictate you holding the ball, you can't lose a ball if you do not have it) and make every pass count and make it into the stride of the receiver and then instantly make yourself available again via positioning either on attack or on defense.
    I would say that Mr Ream deserves a place on the national team because as long as we insist on big, tall imposing lumberjack fullbacks we will always labor in the lower echelon of world fussball.

  4. Skip Grossman, April 19, 2010 at 4:32 p.m.

    Tim is a wonderful player and a great kid. I am sure he will credit his club, Scott Gallagher in St. Louis, for some his technical skill and calmness and vision with the ball. The club's philosophy and coaching director, Tom Howe, emphasize technical skill and ball possession from earliest ages. Tim has been encouraged and ALLOWED to play out the back on the ground to keep possession. He has grown into a fine player and we wish him great success with the Red Bulls.

  5. William Slattery, April 19, 2010 at 4:51 p.m.

    This is right on. When leaving the stadium on Saturday night I told my grandson (age 15), who is very high on Ream, that Ream's calmness on the ball reminds me of Carlos Alberto. I had to explain who that was. But I'm not kidding.

  6. Joshua Koritz, April 19, 2010 at 5:07 p.m.

    I think we have seen a similar center back, he played for the Revolution and is named Michael Parkhurst. He now plays in Scandinavia somewhere. He gets looks now and again for the national team, but they generally think he's too small.

  7. Chaz Worthy, April 19, 2010 at 5:57 p.m.

    Great article about our Mr Ream.

    This is my first season rooting for the Bulls… With our amazing new home, wonderful start, and the emergence of a young American like Ream, I think I timed my new interest in the local MLS side pretty well.

    I consider the way a “cool-headed” defender will calmly make a constructive pass while standing amid traffic in front of his own goal (rather than just whacking a clearance anywhere) to be the epitome of an elite soccer player. You described this contrast beautifully.

    If you’re saying Ream is that kind of player, or has the potential to be that rare supremely-confident, instinctive center back,
    I’m going start watching him closely.

    Yet, by definition, those ball-distributing center backs need partners, other unflappable defenders with transcendent ball skills, who can think quickly and creatively!

    Go NY Bulls…Bring on Philly

  8. beautiful game, April 19, 2010 at 10:35 p.m.

    Ream attributes are scarce among most American players. He well deserves mention as an up and coming American footballer. I wouldn't brand him as the American Bobby Moore, but his presence on the field is reminiscent of England's all time great center back.

  9. Brian Herbert, April 20, 2010 at 12:08 a.m.

    I think Mr. Gardner is referring more to English football than "European", but even there its debatable and unnecessary for the point of the article. The criticism that does hold is how such a brilliant player is just now, at 22, getting professional opportunities. To me, that is the big point - WE NEED U.S. BASED ALTERNATIVES FOR TOP PLAYERS. Let's copy what works everywhere else: reserve squads, open leagues with relegation, etc.

  10. Austin Gomez, April 20, 2010 at 12:35 a.m.

    What did you expect, Mr. Gardner?

    Tim Ream, whose father was a fairly skillful footballer, hails from St. Louis, Missouri --- having played in typical St. Louis University soccer style along with its legendary history AND remembering, of course, that St. Louis was the CENTER of all great Soccer Teams/Players for decades upon decades in the USA.

    Tim is just keeping up the legendary Tradition of St. Louis: the Status of which produced 4 starters for 1950 World Cup, who defeated the famous England with its myriad of professional stars in Belo Horizonte, Brazil in that glorious month of June.

    What would you NOT expect from a Player from St. Louis with all its gallent history and famous Soccer Players, starting from the 20s until the present?


  11. Brian Herbert, April 20, 2010 at 12:53 a.m.

    Austin, cheers that St. Louis has a place on the history map for U.S. football, but I don't really care about any U.S. University's "style". The college game is crap and stunts the development of promising 17 and 18 year olds who could be driving themselves to new levels given better opportunities.

  12. Joe Linzner, April 21, 2010 at 9:07 a.m.

    Mr. Gomez, yes I remeber St Louis being a hotbed for soccer as I played gainst the St Louis Kuties (SP) the US Cup in the 60s sometime. They came to Los Angeles to play against us and we lost, I seem to remember 3-2 their favor.??? Played for Valley German Americans, St Stephens, Germania and the LA Kickers, semi pros in the Greater LA League, Los Angeles, CA. So yes, I do recall that St Louis was a great soccer city even way back then.
    I do believe there is talent in the US although I do not see a mechanism in place to identify those players not in college. The sad part is that the college game has very little to do with FIFA style soccer. We have the stigma of having to Americanize every game played here on Us soil. In the end doing a dis-service to players as well.

  13. Charles Womack, April 22, 2010 at 12:10 p.m.

    Tim Ream is a product of the fine soccer tradition that is alive and well in St. Louis, MO. He comes from a very athletic background as his father played college soccer and is an excellent club coach for St. Louis Scott Gallagher and his mother was a very fine athlete in her own right. Tim plays with a calmness that is uncharacteristic of American backs in this day and age. The sky is the limit for this young man, hopefully the powers that be of American soccer will recognize what they have and give him a chance to make the National team roster.

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