American Exports: Tim Ream dreaming of bigger, better things after breakout season with Bolton Wanderers
AMSTERDAM – If nothing else, Tim Ream proved he was all about capturing the moment last season. Now a proud father armed with a contract extension and twin Bolton Player of the Season prizes, the defender is now focused on adding a fast start in the upcoming Championship campaign to his list of recent accomplishments.
The St. Louis native would have entered this preseason in the final year of his Wanderers deal, but the club made sure that situation never arose. While rumors of Premier League transfer interest swirled in the UK rags last May, Bolton offered an extension to keep Ream at the Reebok until 2017.
Having no desire to move his newly growing family out of Lancashire, the defensive handyman shook hands on the new deal just as the last season ended. That left only the work permit renewal wait that ended this week to make the pact official.
"To be completely honest, I didn't even discuss what was out there with my agent," Ream told MLSsoccer.com from preseason camp in Malmö, Sweden. "It was a matter of more security and being settled where we are. With the manager still here, there was no reason for me to look elsewhere."
JACK OF ALL TRADES
Last season, the 26-year-old enjoyed his breakout European season as boss Dougie Freedman called on him to rotate frequently between central defense, left back and the midfield stopper position. Ream says that his ability to make it look easy enough to earn Player of the Season prizes from both the club and the supporters came down to controlling his mental approach.
"I don't know if you can really prepare for it," he said. "The biggest thing was going in with an open mind. I didn't play the first couple games of the season, which can be frustrating, but things change fast."
And change they did. Often. The ex-New York Red Bulls defender pulled four games in midfield before tightening the defense from center back for 14 of 15 starts. The lone switch in that span saw him move to left back, where he would eventually return for a 15-match run.
He usually was alerted a few days in advance of a change, but not every time.
"I would be moved around in training depending on what the situation called for," Ream said. "There was only one or two times it was a jack-in-the-box on me, when we thought a guy was coming on loan or a guy got called back from loan."
Though he once played left back as a youth player, he'd never worked it at the professional level. Ream eventually took the post 23 times in league play, exactly half the season.
"It took a couple games [to adjust], to be honest," he recalled. "You try to look the part. Not many people realize it really is a different position coming from center back.
"The angles are all different, the time on the ball, you have guys running at you instead of you running up the back of a forward. But it didn't take as long as I originally thought it would. That's the name of the game: adjusting and doing well."
With left back Dean Moxey snared from Crystal Palace, Freedman expects to use Ream in the heart of defense this season. Of course, as the old joke goes, the best way to make God laugh is to have a plan.
"Stuff goes down and you can be right back out there again," he laughed. "It's one of those you can't predict. You just have to be ready."
Late last season, though, Ream was forced to pick his moment between two big ones. With wife Kristen due to give birth to the couple's first child, the defender was called into the last US national team camp before the chosen 30 would be assembled to prepare for World Cup 2014.
Uncapped since 2011, Ream finally had a chance to rally his way into the squad that would head to Brazil. Nevertheless, he turned down his first call-up from Jurgen Klinsmann to stay home for the birth.
"Naturally, you can say "Did I make the right decision?" – but me being the type of person I am, it wasn't about a lack of commitment to the national team," explained Ream. "It was a greater commitment to family. It was my first born, and one of those things I wasn't willing to miss.
"Unfortunately, it may have been my last chance to impress [Klinsmann]. But you just put your head down and go at it again over the next few years."
It may seem odd for a young defender coming off a big season to frame the issue in that manner, but Ream has learned through everything to live in the present.
"I don't think you can ever say you expect to be given a chance," he admitted. "You have to be playing on a regular basis with your club to have a shot at the national team. And that's what I'm focused on. Hopefully, in the coming months, a chance does come up and I can go in and do well with the national team. At the end of the day, I can only control what I'm doing here. The decisions are up to Jurgen and the staff there."
The here and now is with Bolton, who start another chase for the top flight with an August trip to Watford. Despite last year's 14th-placed finish, Ream and the boys insist they are quite capable of better.
"It's no secret that it was a terrible start and a disappointing season overall," he stated. "With the core group we have and the guys they brought in, I don't see any reason why we shouldn't start the season on a higher note.
"I think everybody believes that [we can fight for promotion], but it's not something we discuss. We're not worrying about what happened last year or what could happen this year – you've got to stay in the moment."
Greg Seltzer covers Americans based in Europe for MLSsoccer.com.