Most of the time, when people are forced to cancel vacations, it is because of something unfortunate like a family illness or an emergency work assignment. For Tim Ream, it's been the exact opposite. Two of his most significant career breakthroughs have forced him to alter holiday plans.
In 2012, Ream postponed his honeymoon so he could secure his Premier League transfer from the New York Red Bulls to Bolton. Now, 10 years later, he cancelled a family vacation when he was unexpectedly named to the 2022 World Cup by Gregg Berhalter.
In hindsight, the call should not have been unexpected. Even at 35 years old, Ream has been playing the best soccer of his career over the past 18 months. During that stretch, he has played 98.7% of Fulham’s minutes and has worn the captain’s armband most of the time. Fulham has also thrived with Ream leading the way as the club won promotion after finishing first in the Championship in 2021-22, and is now sitting impressively ninth place in the Premier League after 15 games to start the current season.
Yet it was a surprise. Because Ream had faded from the national team during that span.
Most of 2021 was a good run for Ream on the U.S. team. He started in the Nations League final against Mexico where the U.S. team won 3-2. He also played well in the World Cup qualifying opener in a 0-0 draw with El Salvador. But the following month, Ream withdrew from the roster for the October qualifiers due to “family reasons” and never returned — until now.
“Each time a camp was coming up, they would reach out and they made it known what they were doing and the reasonings,” Ream told Soccer America. “I get it. This is the profession we chose, right? At the end of the day, it's down to other people's decisions whether you are in a squad. I didn't necessarily agree with it. But those are the decisions you 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. That got thrown out the window with one simple phone call [laughs] … I'm beyond excited. I've worked my entire career for this kind of opportunity to be able to play in a World Cup.”
While he has been away from the team, Ream kept a close eye on the standings in qualifying and the overall performances. He continued to feel connected to the team via his Fulham teammate Antonee Robinson, who has cemented himself as the starting left back for both Fulham and the U.S. team.
“When I pulled out of that camp, I felt a little bit disconnected,” Ream explained. “Having [Antonee] come back from all the qualifiers, it kept me kind of connected — obviously at arm's length, of course. It kept me more connected to him and to the team. It also gave me time to assess everything and look at everything in a deeper, better way and understand where and what could possibly be needed in the future if a call did come. He might have been one of the happiest guys at the club when I told him I got the phone call.”
Now that Ream has made the U.S. World Cup team, there are now questions about his role within the team and how he can best help the squad. While Ream has been away from the team for over a year, he still knows many of the team’s players.
Should Ream start, he would be on the left side of central defense where he would play next to Robinson at left back. The chemistry that the two have at Fulham is strong and Ream believes having that carry over to the World Cup could be important.
“We don't have the three weeks build up, and with one week, I think it could play a huge part," Ream said. "And you talk about partnerships and playing next to guys and relationships — look at Tyler [Adams] and Brendan [Aaronson] at Leeds. It is the same situation with me and [Antonee]. It could change the whole dynamic of having someone next to you who you know very well that you're used to playing with. You almost have a sense of what they're going to do, where they're going to be, how they're going to do it, why they're going to do it. Most of the time I know what he's going to do before he's does it because he's that quick. I think in that way it can be beneficial for the other guys as well.”
But in addition to Ream’s chemistry with Robinson, there is just the simple overall quality Ream brings after being a starter for what has turned out to be a good English Premier League team. When the roster was named, Berhalter specifically said that taking Ream was an easy choice based on his play with Fulham.
Berhalter was asked about Ream in multiple occasions when he named his roster and his answers seemed to hint that what he used in World Cup qualifying might not resemble what we will see at the World Cup due to the increased level of competition.
“In my opinion, there is a difference be qualifying in Concacaf and playing in the World Cup,” Berhalter 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 is also the issue of leadership and that is one of Ream’s strengths. During Fulham’s recent ascent, Ream has worn the armband in most of the team’s games and the players on the team look up to him for issues both on and off the field.
The U.S. team has a very young roster in Qatar. Most of the top players are still in their early 20s and the USA is likely not going to have a starting midfielder or forward over the age of 25. While these players are all very talented, Ream’s veteran experience and leadership qualities could help pull the team together.
“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 explained. “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 can I do to help them get the best out of themselves. That's 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 pretty big clubs. It's just little things — maybe seeing things a little bit differently, communicating a little bit differently. There are just different ways that leadership can come out.”
As the only player on the roster who has played in competitive tournaments under Bob Bradley, Jurgen Klinsmann, Bruce Arena and Berhalter, Ream has seen a lot of changes in American soccer – both good and bad — and appreciates this generation of players.
While this current young generation of American players is good, Ream points out their attitude as a key trait.
“In terms of this generation, they play with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder,” Ream discussed. “Gio [Reyna] 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 is an outlier on this team given his age and most of the key talking points about the U.S. team in the media has been about the impressive young players. But Ream believes that even at a 35 he is still developing. He takes on every training session looking to learn something new. This mentality has also resulted in him peaking in the twilight of his career – with his best games still ahead of him.
“I think the last 18 months has been without a doubt some of the best that I've played and certainly the best I've felt physically and mentally,” Ream said. “I still feel that I have a good solid three years, four years left in my body. I know I just turned 35, but to me, age is just a number. It is just a limiter. It just restricts you from doing whatever you want as soon as you start thinking, I'm getting old, I'm this, I'm that — and I joke about being old — but I don't feel it.
“The other part is having that mentality of just being free and knowing that I'm kind at the end of the rope. 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.”
Photo: John Dorton/ISI Photos
Good story, hope it has a happy ending. Fulham often sit deep, not what GB espouses with his high line. He is better suited against top teams that will have the ball, like England, than against Wales & Iran who are happy to let us have it and counter against slow CBs like Ream. Let's see how he fares against Harry Kane.