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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.

Copa America trip helped convince Lodeiro of Sounders move

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 22: Nicolas Lodeiro #10 of the Seattle Sounders gets control of the ball during a match against the Colorado Rapids in the first leg of the Western Conference Finals at CenturyLink Field on November 22, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. The Sounders won the match 2-1. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
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Nicolas Loderio is getting set to play in the MLS Cup finals, something that only came to pass with a team visit to the United States, and the assistance of Luis Suarez.

According to Seattle Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey, he spoke with Lodeiro often in his attempts to bring the 27-year-old from Boca Juniors to Major League Soccer. The moment that swayed him was a trip to the US. A business trip.

With Uruguay competing in the Copa America Centenario, it allowed the two to speak more frequently, but when the Uruguayan became frustrated with his own handle of the native language, a friend stepped in to help. He asked national teammate Suarez to help translate, and thus the transfer came to pass.

“You don’t have body language, it’s harder than it is straight to the face and so he just got frustrated that he couldn’t understand everything that I’m saying,” Lagerwey told MLSSoccer.com’s radio show. “And so he says, ‘Hold on, speak to my friend,’ and I said, ‘OK,’ and I have no idea what’s happening. And Luis Suarez gets on and says, ‘Hi, this is Luis Suarez, how are you?’ And I’m like, ‘Morning, Mr. Suarez, how are you?’ And he was our translator.”

Lodiero has been a revelation for the Sounders since joining in the summer. A creative force all season, the Uruguayan has scored four goals in five playoff matches, bursting onto the national scene on the biggest stage.

“It was just funny. Nico and I, we talked fairly regularly during the process, in part because it took four months for the thing to play out,”  “And he was in the US for the Copa America with Uruguay, obviously, and in hindsight that ended up being a big deciding factor for him, because he brought his wife and his little son and they got to see America and I think liked it and developed a comfort level with it. And I think that’s what ultimately pushed them to make the leap, but I was talking and Nico’s English is actually pretty, pretty good, but he isn’t always so comfortable on the phone.”

With over 50 caps for the national team, Lodeiro is a well-known presence with the Barcelona striker and his other national teammates. The two have hooked up on the field as well, with Suarez assisting Lodeiro’s fourth national team goal back in October.

Zidane’s Madrid on cusp of setting new unbeaten record

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 03: Zinedine Zidane, Manager of Real Madrid looks on during the La Liga  match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou on December 3, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Zinedine Zidane is one match away from coaching Real Madrid to a new unbeaten record.

When Zidane replaced Rafa Benitez midway through last season, the inexperienced former midfield standout got off to an auspicious start with a 5-0 victory over Deportivo La Coruna.

Eleven months and one Champions League title later, Madrid faces Deportivo again at home on Saturday with the chance of surpassing its longest unbeaten run since the club was founded in 1902.

On Wednesday, Madrid equaled a club record of 34 games without a loss set in 1989 under coach Leo Beenhakker when it drew 2-2 with Borussia Dortmund.

“It’s important to continue to make history and continue our good run,” Zidane said after the match. “I don’t think it’s very important for me to leave my mark. What interests me the most is to continue with this great run that we’re on.”

Last season, when Real Madrid president Florentino Perez tapped Zidane to take over a struggling team, the decision smelled of desperation.

A fan favorite from his playing days as part of Madrid’s “galaticos” bunch, Zidane was promoted from coaching the reserve team to take over a side that was lurching from one embarrassing episode to the next.

Madrid’s 2015-16 campaign had started with Perez flubbing his play to sign away Manchester United goalie David De Gea. The team was then disqualified from the Copa de Rey for fielding an illegible player, and it endured a 4-0 defeat from Barcelona at home as it failed to click with Benitez.

Perez needed to make an impact move. But instead of searching for a veteran manager, he charged the unproven Zidane with turning around Madrid’s group of talented underachievers.

At first, the team remained erratic, and even looked set to bow out of the Champions League after a shocking 2-0 loss at German side Wolfsburg.

But that defeat on April 6 proved to be a catalyst. The team hasn’t lost since, recovering to claim its 11th European Cup and almost nip Barcelona for the Spanish league crown, before roaring out to lead la Liga this season.

Zidane, whose top-tier coaching experience had been limited to his stint as an assistant under Carlo Ancelotti, has now reached the half-century mark as head manager. During that 50-match period, he has overseen 37 wins, 11 draws and only two losses. That other loss came at Atletico Madrid in February.

“The players have to be congratulated. They’re the ones out on the pitch, it’s them who run, fight and dig in,” Zidane said. “We also have to thank the fans, who always get behind the team and support us. They’ve got to take some credit for what the team is achieving”.

Gifted with world-class stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, Zidane focused on getting more from Madrid’s supporting cast. He put a new emphasis on defense in his midfield by favoring Mateo Kovacic and Casemiro over flashier playmakers James Rodriguez and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon, and he has helped the little-known Lucas Vazquez blossom into an important piece of its attack.

“(Zidane) has gotten us to work hard and for things to go well for us, and that is paying off with this run of 34 unbeaten games,” defender Dani Carvajal said. “Everyone on the team has words of praise for him.”

Whereas the draw with Dortmund was disappointing because it cost Madrid a first-place finish in its Champions League group, its 1-1 stalemate earned last weekend at Barcelona tasted of victory. The “clasico” draw kept Madrid six points clear of Barcelona at the top of the Spanish table.

After it plays Deportivo, Madrid heads to Japan for the Club World Cup.

If Zidane sets the new club mark, his next goal would be the milestone held by Barcelona under counterpart Luis Enrique, whose 39-game unbeaten run was ended by Madrid last April.

Top 5 Premier League storylines for Week 15: Chelsea top, Leicester tested

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at London Stadium on December 3, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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This weekend is absolutely critical for the Premier League. Last time out, the top of the table kept pace and little changed. This time around, there is danger lurking for much of the top. Arsenal, Liverpool, and Spurs all have difficult tests, but can Tony Pulis be the one to pin Chelsea back?

Spurs and Manchester United 9:15 a.m. ET Sunday, NBCSports.com) meet with both teams clawing for scraps from those above them. These two teams very well could be battling it out for a final Champions League place at the end of the season, meaning this matchup could go a long way in building a true gap in the table.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho failing to adapt at Manchester United ]

The bottom of the table is fascinating as well. Bob Bradley has his biggest chance yet to pull the Swans off the bottom against Sunderland amid the noise, while Hull City and Crystal Palace have a key meeting.

1. Moving day for Chelsea

Chelsea vs. West Brom — 7:00 a.m. ET Sunday, NBCSports.com

Chelsea is in the best form of any Premier League team in years. Their clean sheet streak predictably ended two games ago, but it hasn’t stopped the Blues’ fine run. They’ve won eight in a row and look impossible to stop. Can Pulis-ball keep the Blues at bay? They’re three points on top of the table, and another win would likely give them even more space considering tough matches for the other top teams.

2. Any magic left in the tank for Leicester City?

Leicester City vs. Manchester City — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday, NBCSports.com

The Foxes topped their Champions League group, but things continue to look more and more bleak in league play. Claudio Raneiri admitted they’re in a relegation battle with the Foxes just two points above the drop. But we’ve learned not to count this team out already, and a win against Pep Guardiola‘s stumbling team could be more than just three points.

Speaking of Manchester City, Pep was pipped by fellow first-time Premier League manager Antonio Conte last weekend, and then held to a 1-1 draw with Celtic in midweek Champions League action. However, City has taken care of business so far this season against weaker opponents, and the Foxes certainly seem to be just that at this point.

Claudio Ranieri admitted Leicester City is in a relegation battle (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Claudio Ranieri admitted Leicester City is in a relegation battle (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

3. Will Arsenal stumble against Stoke?

Arsenal vs. Stoke City — 10:00 a.m. ET Saturday, NBCSports.com

For all the heat the Gunners have (unfairly?) taken this season, Alexis Sanchez has them just three points off the top. For Arsenal to still be one game off Chelsea despite the Blues’ fabulous run is somewhat remarkable, and for them to have thus far weathered the storm, it would be truly something to see them capitalize on a slip-up from Conte.

[ MORE: Sanchez among Premier League’s best 5 players ]

However, Stoke has been here before. The Potters have conceded just three goals in their last seven matches, including a pair with clean sheets; if anyone can stop Sanchez’s amazing form, it’s the Mark Hughes and the defensively stout Potters. A win for Stoke could potentially see them jump as high as sixth, could they go on the road and halt the Gunners? It’s possible, but a 315-minute shutout streak vs. Stoke for Arsenal puts things squarely in Arsene Wenger‘s favor before kickoff.

4. Bob Bradley’s golden opportunity

Swansea City vs. Sunderland — 10:00 a.m. ET Saturday, NBCSports.com

Bob Bradley has taken plenty of flak at Swansea City, and rightly so. Since his anointment as the first American manager in England’s top flight, the Swans have picked up just five points and still sit bottom of the table, two points back of anyone else. But to be fair, the competition has been tough. The four losses since his appointment have come against Arsenal, Stoke City, Manchester United, and Tottenham, and he picked up a pair of points against 8th placed Everton and 11th placed Watford. Now is his chance to pick the Swans off the bottom with a win against those directly above him.

[ RELATED: Swansea issues vote of confidence for Bob Bradley ]

Sunderland visits Wales sitting in 18th, and should Swansea win, they would jump above the Black Cats. The task is no given, however, with Sunderland owning three wins in its last four, meaning they’ve picked up nine of their 11 total points in the last month. Bradley fended off much criticism the past week, and if he’s going to silence those calls for his job after just two months, this is a must-win.

5. West Ham finishes gauntlet stretch

Liverpool vs. West Ham United — 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday, NBCSports.com

The Hammers are in the midst of a brutal run of matches where they have just two points, putting them a single point above the relegation zone. The teams they’ve played? Everton, Stoke City, Spurs, Manchester United, Arsenal. Yikes. And yet, if West Ham aspire to the heights they reached last season, Slaven Bilic will expect better. Can the Hammers get a result against the high-flying Reds? Liverpool sits four points off the top, but goalkeeper Loris Karius was exposed last week in the stunning Bournemouth comeback, and it’s possible that disappointment leaves a lasting impact. Who will prevail?

FA bans Leeds owner Massimo Cellino 18 months

LEEDS, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13:  Massimo Cellino President and Director of Leeds United during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Fulham at Elland Road on December 13, 2014 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)
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Leeds United may be making a push to return to the Premier League, but they’ll have to do so without their owner.

Massimo Cellino, who took over Leeds in February of 2014, has been banned for 18 months by the English FA for his involvement in the sale of Ross McCormack to Fulham later that summer. He was also fined $315,000 and required to complete a course outlining the duties and restrictions for owners in the English league.

During McCormack’s sale, a significant payment was apparently paid to unlicensed agent Barry Hughes, facilitated by McCormack’s official licensed agent Derek Day, who was also banned for 18 months, although 11 of those are suspended, leaving him sidelined for seven months should no other infractions arise.

This likely will only serve to accelerate the current potential sale of Leeds to Andrea Radrizzani, with both sides having publicly acknowledged discussions are ongoing.

Leeds is currently in fourth in the Championship table, having won five of their last six matches. McCormack, meanwhile, scoring a whopping 42 goals in 100 appearances over two years before making a big-money move to Aston Villa this past summer, where he has slumped at Villa Park, owning just two goals over 13 Championship appearances this season and losing his place in the team. To be fair, he struggled in his early days at Fulham as well, scoring just twice in his first 15 matches before exploding in his second season at Craven Cottage with 21 league goals.