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.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

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Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

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Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 23-man roster questions ]

That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

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Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?