Maybe a handful of American players have endured the type of journey and high-profile task that Bolton Wanderers defender Tim Ream has had in a three-month stretch.
After making the move from Major League Soccer’s New York Red Bulls to the Premier League in late January, Ream has played a vital role in lifting the team onto the right side of the ledger in the fight to avoid relegation, up to a current 16th-place position and one precious point above three rivals. He has been a regular starter for the Wanderers, and Ream hopes that his efforts will springboard a return to the U.S. Men’s National Team when it kicks off 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifying this summer.
Ream’s new Bolton team was on the wrong end of relegation (19th place) following his first Premier League game against Chelsea, but the Wanderers are currently out of the red and control their own fate. They host Clint Dempsey and Fulham on April 7 (shown on tape-delay on FOX Soccer at 5 p.m. ET), and for Ream it will be a much different perspective going against his fellow National Teamer.
ussoccer.com caught up with Ream before this highly anticipated matchup.
ussoccer.com: Having been with Bolton for roughly two months now, how do you feel things have gone on the field so far?
Tim Ream: “On the field, it’s gone pretty well up to this point. Since signing I’ve played in almost every game and started almost every game and I’ve done well for the most part. I feel like I fit in with all the guys on the team, fit in with the style of play and I’m up to speed on everything with just playing in the Premier League. So far, so good. I’m pretty pleased with it.”
ussoccer.com: What is the biggest adjustment that you have had to make to get acclimated to Bolton?
TR: “I think the biggest thing is just communication and knowing how the guys around you play, what their skill sets are and what they’re good at. I think that’s the biggest thing. Everybody has so much natural ability that you’re not worried about whether they can play or not. It’s the communication and understanding that isn’t there when you first come over. I think that’s the most difficult part with your own team is figuring out good lines of communication and having a good understanding with each other.”
ussoccer.com: What have you found to be the main differences moving into the Premier League environment?
TR: “There are a couple. The biggest one is the talent all over the field at every position, no matter who you play. Obviously there are talented guys in MLS, but you don’t have the talent at every single position like you do here. You play the Man Citys and the Chelseas, they have a quality international player at every spot. That’s definitely a big difference. And then the speed of play. It’s different, but it’s not as crazy of a difference as most people would think. Physically, I’ve had to step that up another notch and continue to improve upon that because that’s what got me last year was not being physical enough. That’s something that I’ve learned and something that I continue to have to work on.”
ussoccer.com: After your first game – an FA Cup match against Millwall – your next two were against Chelsea and Manchester City. Was there a moment where you were in awe with those tall tasks?
TR: “Yeah, actually there was. At the time of the game you don’t really have much time to think about it. I think it was more after the Man City game when I actually had to play defensive midfield, and you sit in the locker room afterward and you say ‘wow, what an introduction.’ You have to play Chelsea one week and Man City the next. These are two teams that you watch on TV all the time, you watch their players all the time. It was very surreal the day following those two games. I was thinking to myself that I held my own, for the most part, but also knew there was a long way to get to that level and be able to compete with those guys for 90 minutes. It was definitely a surreal experience and a tough introduction.”
ussoccer.com: When you play against this type of improved competition, does it build your confidence?
TR: “It’s twofold. When you can play with and against these guys and you play well, it’s a major confidence boost. Especially – I’ve said it all along – after the year I had in MLS and the struggles with the National Team. It was a tough year, and being able to come in here and play alongside them, and play against them and play well, it’s a huge confidence boost. Every player wants to play against the best competition in the world and the best teams. To be able to come here and prove your worth and show what you’re about and play against those teams, it can only make you better as a player and as a person and help you in the long-term.”
ussoccer.com: Do you think it will it help you at the international level?
TR: “Absolutely. Obviously you have to continue to play well to get called in and get games in with the National Team. But again, you’re playing teams that have international-caliber players at every position, and so you start to understand and start to be able to read the game quicker and read the game a step or two ahead. It just helps in the all-around scheme of things.”
ussoccer.com: Several weeks ago Bolton’s Fabrice Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest against Tottenham (as of April 5 Muamba is reportedly walking around again in the hospital). What was going through your mind and your teammates’ minds, and how did you cope with that startling experience?
TR: “It’s different for every player. Everybody around the club was kind of just walking around in a trance, just looking dazed and not really saying much. It’s not something that most players experience and ever want to experience. It’s a scary thing. It really makes you appreciate what you have and what you’re achieving and what you’re continuing to play for. Everybody’s different. I’m one of those guys that takes a day or two to collect your thoughts. I like being around people and getting back to a normal routine, and that’s not to say you still don’t think about what happened or still don’t think about Fabrice. Once you start getting back into a normal routine you feel like you can kind of continue to heal and mend and just get back to normal.”
ussoccer.com: What was it like seeing the reactions of the players and fans – not just Bolton, but people from all over the league?
TR: “To see the fans come together and to see everybody chanting Fabrice’s name, and all the players coming together and consoling each other no matter what team it was … you saw guys on Tottenham with arms around guys of our team. The rest of the league, and all of the flowers and scarves and jerseys that were brought to the stadium and all around the world with Barcelona and Real Madrid wearing the t-shirts and New York wearing t-shirts for him, it was pretty special to see. It gives you a real perspective that football is really about camaraderie, no matter who you’re rooting for and who you’re rooting against.”
ussoccer.com: You’re facing Clint Dempsey and Fulham next. Has it been fun to see a fellow American do what he’s done this season?
TR: “He’s having arguably the best season of any American field player. Obviously [Everton’s] Timmy Howard has been unbelievable in the net for years now, but what Clint’s doing, scoring goals, getting assists, is something that’s definitely fun to watch. You see every weekend that he’s either picking up a goal or picking up an assist. I think it’s important, not only for Clint, but for this country and the league as a whole to see that Americans can succeed here. As much as I’ve played with him, I think once you step on the field it’s business. Obviously he and I, we know each other, we talk, and we’re somewhat friends just from being on the National Team. You have a job to do once the whistle blows and you step on the field. You can be buddy-buddy before and buddy-buddy after, but during that 90 minutes it’s intense and you can’t be nice.”
ussoccer.com: Given his form, how much of a sense of pride would it be for you and Bolton to shut him down?
TR: “It’s something that I’ve definitely thought about the last couple days. It’s not just going to be me. It’s going to take a real team effort to shut him down and to shut their team down. I’ll get a lot of pointers, even though I’ve played with him multiple times. The guys that play around me have played against him more and I think you learn more from playing against him and knowing what he does in the run of play than you do playing with him. With the National Team, I get to watch him be offensive and not have to worry about marking him or going into a tackle with him and watching his movements. So I think it will be a big sense of pride if we can shut him down and shut the team down and come away with three points.”
ussoccer.com: Do you feel good about the fact that you have started regularly with Bolton so quickly?
TR: “Yeah. It’s hard for a player when you’re used to playing every game and then you come to a team and you don’t play. I’ve been very fortunate that in my time in New York I was able to step right in. Now coming here, I feel really good about my play and I feel great that I’ve been able to step in and contribute to the team and help us get out of relegation at the moment. I’m definitely happy, and a little bit surprised. But at the same time I know what I’m capable of, and I knew coming in here that I’d be able to help the team out and step in and help win games.”
ussoccer.com: Comparing your first Premier League match against Chelsea to this current stage, do you think there is a better flow within the Bolton team?
TR: “I think so. We’re definitely in a better position numbers-wise and points-wise. At the end of the day, we knew after those two games [against Chelsea and Manchester City] that of all the teams that were near the bottom, we have the most favorable schedule. All the other teams around us have to play at least three or four more of the top six teams. So it was just up to us to really take control, and we really control our own destiny. If we keep winning games, we’ll obviously be in a good position. With a little bit of help here and there, we could be in an even better position. But at the end of the day, it’s about taking care of your own results and taking care of your own games, and we’re definitely in a better spot now. Everybody’s more willing to fight for each other and battle it out in these games to pick up the points, which was a little bit different than when I first came over.”
ussoccer.com: Do you also see improvement on both ends of the pitch, especially the offensive side where goals had been hard to come by?
TR: “I think so. Obviously we’re still giving up more goals than we’d like. Everybody wants to get a shutout every game, but that’s not always feasible. At the end of the day, we’re now scoring goals, which when I first came over we were scoring maybe, if we were lucky, a goal a game. We were thinking to ourselves, ‘where are the goals going to come from?’ But a lot of guys have stepped up and have started scoring. That takes the pressure off of us in the back. Obviously we don’t want to make mistakes, but if a mistake does happen we know that the guys up front are going to pull their weight even more so and help us out and put something on the board. That makes us in the back want to fight harder and keep the guys and the goals out, more so than if they weren’t scoring goals. We know that if they’re going to pull their weight, we want to pull our weight. It’s kind of like a competition at the moment.”
ussoccer.com: U.S. midfielder Stuart Holden just returned to Bolton after rehabbing his right knee in Delaware. Have you had a chance to catch up with him during this rehab process?
TR: “I haven’t really sat down with him since he got back, but we’ve chatted back and forth about everything that he’s been doing stateside and what he has to continue to do here. He really wanted to be back and at least contribute a little bit with maybe two or three games to go. But I think he understands that it will probably be better for him in the long run if he takes all the time off that he needs and comes back even stronger than when he was. That’s probably a better situation for him and for the club.”