DOHA, Qatar – In the winter of 2010, Tim Ream received what is known as the “Petke Test”. Ream was in his first professional preseason training camp with the New York Red Bulls, and then-teammate Mike Petke decided he would test the rookie defenseman’s mettle. From a dead sprint, Petke went right through the rear of Ream with a slide tackle.
Ream’s response spoke volumes about the type of player he was then and would remain throughout his career. He looked at Petke, stood up, didn’t say a word and continued with the training.
“He tested me in the first place, but what am I supposed to do about it?” Ream said during an exclusive interview with ESPN. “I’m going to try to beat him in a different way because that’s not how I played and I didn’t know how to get the guy back.”
Such a reaction is entirely in keeping with Ream’s personality, which exudes calm in all aspects of his life.
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“I don’t know if I’ve ever really lost my composure,” he said. “There’s no point in taking revenge or blushing and getting angry because then it’s your whole kind of [mindset]everything just shifts and you lose focus on what you need to do and that is just keep playing the game and then try to win.
It’s that composure – not just emotionally, but on the ball – that embodies Ream’s resurgence with the USA men’s national team during this World Cup. He has gone from being an outsider looking inward at how it relates to the US squad to an essential player. In two games with the Americans, the St. Louis central defender was one of the team’s MVPs. Ream was consistent on the ball, completing 89.1% of his passes and winning 60% of his tackles while committing just one foul.
There is also Reams leadership. In the second-youngest team in the World Cup, the 35-year-old is the smart guy, even if that causes him grief from time to time. Earlier this month, US captain Tyler Adams dubbed Ream the group’s “grandpa,” prompting some good-natured banter on the team bus. After Friday’s 0-0 draw with England, all of these aspects will be needed again on Tuesday when the USA take on Iran in a bid for a place in the knockout rounds. His teammates are grateful for his presence.
“It’s standard [Ream] It was incredible,” said Antonee Robinson, Ream’s team-mate and fellow defender both at international level and at club club Fulham. “He has such a reassuring presence on the ball. It’s not a shock to me. I’ve played with him long enough now to know what he’s about. But to actually see him come out on that stage when at one point it seemed like he wouldn’t be here and push his level even further than he’s already done this season means a lot to me.”
It’s an approach Ream has honed since he started playing football at famed youth club St Louis Scott Gallagher. There, technical ability was encouraged and valued, which begs the old question: Has his environment shaped him or is he just like that?
“I think it’s right in his DNA,” said Dan Donigan, who coached Ream at Saint Louis University. “I think it’s his personality. He’s a very gentle guy with a soft voice. Nothing fazes him. He never overreacts on or off the field. He’s just a very easygoing person no matter what he’s dealing with Has.”
Rather, Ream believes that both nature and upbringing – at least in a footballing sense – have shaped him. He has four younger siblings, and he says: “They’re all a hell of a lot louder than me. I don’t know if this is a first child thing because my eldest is the same. I’m not one of those guys, he’ll be the loudest in the crowd. But with the ball that was learned from a young age and something our coach really believed in.
Ream’s consistent demeanor and skill have served him well throughout his pro career, which now spans 14 seasons. This is, after all, a man who has played in teams that have either been relegated from or promoted to the Premier League in his last five campaigns. He also endured another relegation with Bolton Wanderers when he first joined England.
“The first thing that comes to mind is that it’s humbling,” he said of the yo-yo nature of Fulham’s recent years. “This game can give you so many incredible things and incredible moments and experiences. At the same time, it can take them away and then pull out the rug very quickly.”
Ream’s international experience was also a rollercoaster ride that only lasted for a longer period of time. He was first picked for the national team under Bob Bradley in 2010, but some uneven plays at the 2011 Gold Cup saw him drift off the side. He was recalled during the 2018 World Cup cycle under Jurgen Klinsmann but fell out of favor again. Ream was then brought into providing a veteran presence in the first year of Gregg Berhalter’s tenure, and the same thing happened. Not even a flawless performance against El Salvador in the opening World Cup qualifier was enough to earn a bigger role as the US coach soon turned his attention to younger players.
But Berhalter, who always hedged his bets, kept in touch with Ream during this time, although the conversations took on a familiar pattern. It seemed like every time US manager called Ream, the US manager had to explain to the defense attorney why he was not called up.
“The disappointment kept coming from every camp,” said Ream, adding that at one point he “made peace” with the prospect of missing out on the World Cup.
But Berhalter’s constant communication paid off. Miles Robinson tore his Achilles tendon in May while Chris Richards sustained a hamstring injury in September. Suddenly there was a vacancy in the World Cup squad and Ream was needed.
Berhalter called Ream in early November to check the player’s mental state and see if he was still engaged. Ream was careful not to let disappointment smack him in the face again, but hung up the phone, thinking he had a shot at making the World Cup squad. As it turned out, these were significantly better than the Lloyd Christmas odds, and Ream eventually got word that he’d made the team.
“I was still trying to process it until we landed in Qatar,” he said.
But if the exchange with Berhalter included some tense moments, it was nothing compared to the conversation he had to have with those three children, Aidan, Theo and Lilia. Just three days before speaking to Berhalter, Ream had booked a 10-day vacation to Disney World with his family. When Ream’s plans for the month of November changed, he had to break them the hard news that the trip to Disney would have to wait.
“I told them, ‘What are your hopes? What are your dreams? You have dreams, what do you want to do? Well, Daddy got a call I’m going to a World Cup, and we’re going to have to postpone Disney, he said.
It helped that both of his boys are already big football fans and collect the stickers that accompany the World Cup. That helped soften the blow.
Herculez Gomez praised the United States’ performance in the 0-0 draw with England at the FIFA World Cup.
“It was a tough sell at first, probably in the first hour,” he said. “Once they got their heads wrapped around it, I think they were more excited to come out and see the spectacle and be a part of it now. They asked after a week when they would get on a plane and when they can come here. “
Ream is fully aware of his luck in terms of the squad but rightly notes that he would not be in Qatar had he not played well for Fulham, where his Premier League form this season has been superb. That’s only slightly less surprising than his performance at the World Cup. When Ream was last in the Premier League two seasons ago he made just seven league appearances and appeared to be struggling at that level.
What has changed? When asked, a rueful smile broke Ream’s face and he said: “I’ve seen that debate.” He insists he’s basically the same player he’s always been. Neither his style nor his general skill has changed.
“Do I think I’m a better player now? Yes,” he said. “Do I think I do things differently or have I miraculously become a different type of player? No, I don’t think so.”
Ream admits there has been some development. The arrival of manager Marco Silva “was probably the best thing that could have happened to me”. A much more balanced side this season than in their recent Premier League forays, Fulham are currently firmly in ninth place. Experience counts too. Ream noted that he never stopped learning and that he sees the game better, recognizes opponents’ play patterns and reacts accordingly. But instead of creating excitement, the realization that he was nearing the end of his career was so liberating that he thinks he has three or four more years to play.
“I think it freed me to then just play the game on autopilot like I did when I was younger,” he said.
The upward trend in his game is clear, as is the satisfaction he gets from having this opportunity on a global stage. After the game against Wales, Ream’s normally calm facade of positive vibes began to appear.
“I enjoyed it very much and I wish it had happened a long time ago,” he said of the match. “But I’m enjoying every single minute I’m playing and being here.”
Now Ream and the US face the immense challenge of facing off against an Iranian side brimming with confidence and panache, and likely backed by a bipartisan, pro-Iranian crowd. Not that Ream will change its approach.
“I treat every single game as a knockout game,” he said. “Every single game is important and this one is the most important at the moment. I’m not going to build it up [that] This game is on a pedestal because that’s when you start thinking about it. We know what to do. Win, we’re in.”
Ream’s game can help them get there.
https://www.espn.com/soccer/united-states-usa/story/4814912/grandpa-of-the-usream-has-become-indispensable-in-qatar ‘Grandpa’ of the US, Ream has become indispensable in Qatar