Spotlight USA: Tim Ream on World Cup hopes, Bolton revival and MLS return

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Before the recent international break, I caught up with a player many will regard as ‘the forgotten man’ of Americans Abroad.

Tim Ream.

With the U.S. national team leaking a few goals down in Panama on Tuesday and looking shaky at the back in recent games without first-choice duo Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez, could Bolton Wanderer’s defender Ream make a surge back into Jurgen Klinsmann’s World Cup squad between now and next June?

In the latest edition of Spotlight USA — where I catch up with USMNT players plying their trade in England — I spoke with Ream about his USMNT hopes, if he regrets moving to Bolton, a return to MLS and much more.

A player who excelled in his debut MLS season, Ream was dubbed an up and coming star after being given his USMNT bow by former head coach Bob Bradley. After impressive displays for the New York Red Bulls in MLS and abroad in the Emirates Cup, plenty of European teams started to sniff around Ream and the 26-year-old ball-playing center back soon transferred from the Red Bulls to Bolton Wanderers in January 2012.

Fast forward 18 months or so, and Ream is slowly but surely picking his career back up.

Following a disastrous second half of the 2011-12 PL campaign that saw Bolton relegated on the final day of the season, Ream found it hard to adjust to life in England’s second-tier and was only a bit-part player as the Trotters narrowly missed out on making the playoffs in 2012-13. New manager Dougie Freedman took over from Owen Coyle, the man who’d signed Ream, and the young Scottish manager has finally given Ream a chance to shine.

(MORE: ARCHIVE – SPOTLIGHT USA)

And things have started off a lot brighter for the composed defender in 2013-14, with the former RBNY star playing in both midfield and at the back as Bolton continue their climb from the lower reaches of the Championship towards the playoff places. With a recent appearance in the U.S. national teams friendly win over Bosnia in September and a few European friendlies against Scotland and Austria coming up, now is Ream’s time to shine if he has any chance of becoming the ‘comeback man’ instead of the ‘forgotten man.’

Ream’s personal quest to make the USMNT World Cup squad starts here. He needs a good season and some good performances for his club and in the upcoming U.S. friendlies in November, but his talent and temperament is undoubted. He just need a good break or two to force his way back into Klinsmann’s plans.

So, as I said, I caught up with Tim for out latest Spotlight USA after training, and here’s what the hugely likeable pro had to stay.

On this season, better than last year?

I think last year it was definitely a struggle for me in terms of adjusting to the style that is the Championship. But now I’ve taken the opportunity that was given to me a couple weeks back and I’m playing well and playing consistently, which is what I always tried to do. I’m definitely glad that I was given the chance, and I’m happy with that way I’ve been playing.

On playing in midfield and defense:

There were three games there where I was playing center mid, and I think with injuries and some guys falling out of form, they felt the need to switch things around. I think it’s one of those where I’m happy to be playing and wherever they see fit and wherever I can help out the team, I’m happy to do that.

On Bolton’s chances to move towards promotion in 2013-14:

Absolutely, I think after the result at Blackpool, the way we played and the way we defended as a team, attacked as a team and created as team, it’s just a matter of time before we start banging goals in the back of the net and moving up the table. We definitely have the guys in the squad that can do that for us. It’s just a matter of getting that first win and those first three points.

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The transition from Premier League to the Championship has been a difficult one for Ream.

On the difference from playing in Premier League to the Championship:

It’s similar to the difference between MLS and the Premier League, it’s quicker still in the Championship and you don’t have as much time on the ball. It’s definitely more physical than the Premier League, and those are all things that after adjusting pretty quickly after moving from New York to the Premier League, it was kind of a shock to the system to then be in the Championship and having to adjust again. The physical nature of the game and the lack of time on the ball that guys are given is a big difference.

On Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez playing for USMNT:

Obviously you’re happy for any guy who gets a call in and does well. Obviously those two guys have proven their worth in MLS, and have continued to do so at the international level, I’m really happy for them. They’re great players and I think it’s well deserved for them to be called in, and it’s definitely an added bonus that they’re bringing more exposure to MLS because of it.

On if he regrets leaving MLS to play in England with Bolton:

Do I regret moving? Absolutely not. No, I felt at the time not that I couldn’t get better [in MLS], but I wanted to get better and become a more rounded player, quicker. As a result of going through those struggles last year, I think that I’ve been able to do that. So whether that equates to be in the national team squad again or not, that’s not my decision. I just have to continue to get on the field and get minutes and be consistent.

On being involved in the USMNT setup against Bosnia:

It was a good experience as are all international friendlies, qualifiers or Gold Cup games. They’re all great experiences and to be around a lot of those guys again and just to catch up and be able to spend some extended amount of time with them. And the staff as well and reacquaint myself with how they do things was definitely a big positive for me.

On the Scotland and Austria friendlies next month:

Those friendlies are always at the back of your mind. Obviously, as I said before I have to continue to keep playing well and be on the field consistently to get that call, so, obviously I have to focus 100 percent on what’s going on here. In the back of your mind you’re always looking for that next call in and when that next game is so you can be involved.

On the USA’s qualification to the World Cup:

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Ream is hoping to work his way back into Klinsmann’s USMNT plans.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to watch the game [the WC win vs. Mexico which clinched qualification] I mean I did follow it online as best I could through posts and all that kind of stuff. it was a massive result, and that propelled us to qualify. I think everyone is finally seeing what Jurgen is trying to do with the team. It’s finally at the forefront and people are finally seeing what he can do with the squad that he has to choose from. I think it’s great. And as a result, there’s big expectations going into the World Cup. Mexico was meant to be the heavyweights in CONCACAF, and we beat them 2-0. And we’ve gone swing for swing with some of the top teams in Europe and around the world. Like I said, expectations are high and I think the team can do really well and go as far as they want. I think the sky’s the limit to be honest with you.

On meeting up with the likes of Geoff Cameron, Jozy Altidore and other U.S. starts in England outside of soccer:

It’s difficult to get everywhere and see all these guys, especially with them all in the Premier League and us in the Championship. We obviously don’t get to come up against each other unless you get to play them in the FA Cup of the League Cup. We were able, last fall, to have a thanksgiving dinner with Timmy Howard and Maurice Edu and that whole group. So, we see them every once in a while but probably not as much as we’d all like.

On Juan Agudelo’s move to Stoke and helping him adjust to life in England:

Absolutely. When he was over before and training with West Ham, we had a game down in London and I was able to meet up with him then and hang out with him a bit. I’m sure we will catch up and hang out a bit, we always got on really well after coming into the league together and then getting introduced to the national team at the same time, and pretty much being involved in all the same games. Him and I have a pretty good friendship and a good relationship and I will probably send him a few messages on Facebook as the time nears and he starts to come over and moves over. I’m sure we will meet up and have a good time.

On settling in and enjoying life in England:

Anybody will tell you it’s much easier to enjoy life and be settled when you’re playing on a regular basis. I think last year was a tough year, I think we felt that we had gotten settled once we were over here but obviously then you get relegated and then you’re struggling in the Championship. I think last year was pretty unsettling. But now that I’m playing again, you feel more settled. But that can change in an instant, if you get dropped and you’re not playing a lot of games.

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Ream revealed he plans to return to MLS, just like Clint Dempsey and other U.S. stars have.

On a possible return to MLS:

I think all the guys that have played in the league and moved on would like to come back. I’m no different. When that time is, I don’t know. But yeah, I definitely see myself moving back at some point. Probably not as earlier as Clint’s done it, but you can’t really argue with what he’s done! So, he’s obviously a huge talent and a big pick up for the league. He did it for his own reason, which is great. When the time comes for me and my family, it will be the same. But a lot of guys are starting to ask me more about the league, different cities, and it’s not just the American guys who want to go back and play it’s a lot of these guys over here, even in their prime, who are thinking about going over there and playing in MLS.

Benevento remains alone in Europe without a point

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ROME (AP) Benevento remained the only club in Europe’s top five leagues without a point after losing at basement rival Hellas Verona 1-0 in Serie A on Monday.

[ MORE: USA U-17s top Paraguay in convincing style ]

Romulo scored with a long volley to conclude a counterattack in the 74th minute.

Benevento center back Luca Antei was shown a direct red card for a sliding tackle late in the first half and Verona striker Giampaolo Pazzini nearly took advantage immediately when he hit the post.

With its first win of the season, Verona moved up to 16th place with six points.

Benevento has lost all eight of its matches.

All of the top-division squads in England, France, Germany and Spain have earned at least a point.

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Calls for exiled player to go to WCup stirs storm in Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) Soon after Egypt qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1990, a hashtag began trending on social media: “Aboutrika to the World Cup.”

In a country where soccer and politics often mix, and often with explosive results, the pro-government media didn’t like that.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

The hashtag unleashed an intense online campaign by tens of thousands of fans calling for former star midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika, who is now living in exile in Qatar, to come out of retirement and play for Egypt at the World Cup in Russia next year.

It stirred a storm in the Arab country because of Aboutrika’s alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist group that has been outlawed and declared a terrorist organization by the government. The Brotherhood was outlawed after the military’s ouster of a freely elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013.

The 38-year-old Aboutrika faces a host of charges rooted in his alleged financial support for the Brotherhood and lives in exile knowing he risks arrest if he returns home. His assets have been frozen by Egyptian authorities and his name is on a terrorism list. He now makes a living as a soccer pundit on the Qatar-based sports channel beIN.

Aboutrika turned down the call to return in a message to his supporters.

“These are kind feelings for which I thank you,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “But realism is better and I don’t steal the efforts of others. Those men (on the current team) deserve to be there alone.”

Yet that gentle refusal didn’t stop the storm around him, and the unfavorable comparisons made by some between Aboutrika and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, the team’s current star and new darling of the pro-government media.

“Mohammed Salah is the player who stood by his country, not like the other one (Aboutrika),” said Ahmed Moussa, perhaps the most ardent government supporter among TV talk show hosts. “He (Salah) is Egypt’s only star.”

The 25-year-old Salah endeared himself to fans with both goals, including an injury-time penalty, in a 2-1 win over Republic of Congo on Oct. 8 that ensured Egypt qualified for the World Cup for just the third time, and first time in nearly 30 years.

Salah has also been embraced by the government of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and its supporters in the media as a patriot. A donation of 5 million Egyptian pounds (nearly $300,000) Salah made in December to a development fund founded by el-Sissi has gone a long way to endear him to them.

In the week since qualification, Salah has been branded “golden boy,” “legend” and “genius.”

One media commentator, Dandarawy el-Hawary of the daily “Seventh Day,” wrote of Salah’s decisive goal against Republic of Congo: “It touched off the volcanoes of patriotism, sense of belonging and love of one’s country.”

Not long ago Aboutrika was the national hero – he still is to many – after playing a central role in Egypt’s three straight African Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Those triumphs made Egypt Africa’s most successful team with a record seven titles.

Now, the pro-government media refers to him as a traitor.

Another talk show host, Amr Adeeb, suggested the campaign to bring Aboutrika out of retirement was the work of government critics and berated him for his failure to lead Egypt to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Aboutrika has been labeled a mercenary, with his job with the Qatar-based beIN used as evidence of his lack of patriotism because of Egypt’s diplomatic spat with Qatar over the tiny Gulf nation’s alleged support of terrorism.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Aboutrika’s supporters argue that to have him back on the team would be a just reward for his dedication to Egypt and compensation for his failed efforts to get the team to previous World Cups. They point out that Argentina great Diego Maradona and Cameroon’s Roger Milla both came out of retirement to play for their countries at the World Cup.

Responding to the criticism from government supporters, Aboutrika’s fans have also been posting videos of him scoring goals for club and country in years past, with commentators lavishly praising him for his skill and passion.

MLS playoff scenarios heading into the final weekend

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Time certainly has flown by, and just like that the MLS Cup playoffs are well within sight.

While the Eastern Conference is all locked up in terms of which teams will be in the postseason, seeding can change drastically on the final weekend.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

Meanwhile, the West sees three clubs vying for one final spot in what has proven to be a very intriguing battle over the last several weeks.

All eyes will be on three teams in the Western Conference as the San Jose Earthquakes, FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake all have an opportunity to move into the sixth spot.

Below, PST takes a look at where clubs can finish in relation to the playoff race.

Eastern Conference

#1 seed: Toronto FC is locked into the top spot

#2 seed: NYCFC — clinches the two seed with a win; Chicago Fire — clinches two with win and NYCFC draw or loss; Atlanta takes two with win plus NYCFC loss/draw and Fire loss/draw

#3 seed: Fire — finishes third with win; NYCFC — takes third with loss to Crew and Fire win; Atlanta — third with win and Fire loss; Crew — finish third with win over NYCFC and don’t overtake NYCFC on GD, plus losses by Fire and Atlanta

#4 seed: NYCFC — fourth with loss to Crew and overtaken on GD, plus Fire win; Fire — finish fourth with loss and Atlanta win, plus NYCFC win or draw; Atlanta — takes fourth with loss and NYCFC/Fire wins; Crew — fourth with win over NYCFC, Fire win and Atlanta loss/draw

#5 seed: Crew — finish fifth with loss/draw; Atlanta — finishes fifth with loss and Crew win; Fire — takes fifth with loss and Atlanta/Crew victories; NYCFC — drops with loss to Crew, Atlanta win and Fire win/draw

#6 seed: New York Red Bulls are locked into sixth spot

Western Conference

#1 seed: Whitecaps — clinch top spot with win; Timbers — finish first with win and Whitecaps loss

#2 seed: Whitecaps — finish second with loss to Timbers; Timbers — second with loss/draw and Sounders/Sporting KC losses; Sounders — finish second with win and Whitecaps win

#3 seed: Timbers — third with loss and Sounders win; Sounders — loss to Rapids and Sporting KC/Dynamo losses; Sporting KC — finish third with win, Sounders loss and Whitecaps/Timbers draw; Dynamo — third with win, Sporting KC loss and Sounders loss

#4 seed: Whitecaps — finish fourth with loss to Timbers, Sounders/Sporting KC wins; Timbers — loss to Whitecaps, plus Sounders/Sporting KC victories; Sounders — finish fourth with loss/draw and Sporting KC win; Sporting KC — fourth with loss and Dynamo loss/draw; Dynamo — finish fourth with win and Sporting KC loss

#5 seed: Timbers — fifth with loss to Whitecaps and Sounders/Sporting KC/Dynamo wins; Sounders — loss to Rapids, plus Sporting KC/Dynamo victories; Dynamo — finish fifth with loss; Sporting KC — fifth place with loss and Dynamo win

#6 seed: San Jose Earthquakes clinch with win; FC Dallas takes sixth with win/draw and Earthquakes loss/draw; Real Salt Lake clinch with win/draw, Earthquakes loss and Dallas loss/draw

The next Pulisic? A 10-year-old American is heading to AS Roma

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With everything that has transpired since last week’s U.S. Men’s National Team debacle, American soccer fans can use a pick-me-up.

What better could there be than perhaps another young star-in-the-making? Dare I say, the next Christian Pulisic?

[ MORE: Bruce Arena is out as USMNT manager ]

Perhaps, but it’s way too early to say that.

His name is Alessandro Cupini, a 10-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri that is about to complete a dream that a soccer player of any age would be thrilled to achieve.

Less than two weeks ago, Cupini and his family announced that the Kansas City Fusion midfielder/striker would be accepting a spot in the AS Roma academy starting in the Spring 2018, after having trained with the club for the better part of two years off and on.

Pro Soccer Talk had the opportunity to speak with Cupini’s father, Eddie, ahead of his son’s big move to Italy.

“This is something that Alessandro has worked really hard for,” Eddie Cupini told PST. “There are times where I tell him that he needs to take a step back and be a normal kid, but he doesn’t have any of that. He’s an incredibly hard-working and driven kid that does more than most people regardless of his age.”

Alessandro — who recently turned 10 years old — isn’t the typically American youngster though, according to his father.

“There are times where I wish Alessandro would take a break and be a kid, but that’s just not in his desire,” Cupini said. “We built him a mini stadium downstairs where he trains basically every day after school. As soon as he gets home from school he’s doing work down there and always looking for other kids to come over to practice with.”

That’s where the comparisons to Pulisic can be worked into the conversation.

Pulisic followed a very similar path to the professional level when he left his hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania at the age of 16 to sign with Borussia Dortmund. Now, he’s U.S. Soccer’s most promising star as the USMNT looks to rebuild.

“We’re very familiar with Christian’s story, and he’s certainly somebody that Alessandro looks up to,” Cupini said.

Cupini is already on the radar of U.S. Soccer and the Olympic Development Program (ODP), which helps identify young talent in the United States starting at the Under-12 level.

However, because of Cupini’s Italian heritage and his unique opportunity to move to Italy next year, Alessandro could potentially have the chance to represent either the USMNT or the Azzurri in the future.

“It’s a long ways away and we’re taking things slow in that regard,” Cupini said in regards to his son’s international plans. “We’d certainly be willing to explore our options, but I think it would be a real dream and his main goal to play for Italy.”

New Jersey-native and former Italy international Giuseppe Rossi made a similar career choice when it came down to choosing a national team. Despite living in the United States for much of his youth years, Rossi appeared for a number of Italy’s youth teams before holding a stint with the senior side from 2008 to 2014.

Prior to making the announcement that Roma would be where Cupini will ply his trade next year, the young American also had the opportunity to train with Italian academies Empoli and Atalanta.

“My father is from Rome, so for Alessandro to have the opportunity to play for his hometown club it was almost a no-brainer,” Cupini said. “We were very grateful to the other clubs for the chance Alessandro had to train with them, but Roma is a club that is very close to our family.