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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.

source: Getty Images
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.

Klopp played three positions in Liverpool staff team’s draw with Stanford

Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool FC (Photo credit: @StanfordMSoccer)
Photo credit: @StanfordMSoccer
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From the Endearing Jurgen Klopp Tales file, the Liverpool manager reportedly starred in defense, midfield and attack for a squad full of Reds coaches against Stanford on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Liverpool, who have based themselves on the sunny, warm Stanford University campus as part of their preparations for the 2016-17 Premier League, took on the collegiate side and played the youngsters to a 1-1 draw.

Klopp failed to get his name on the scoresheet, though the former Mainz striker had one golden chance turned away by Stanford’s goalkeeper. The same couldn’t be said for physiotherapist Ruben Pons, who scored from beyond the halfway line on a mishit long ball over the top.

With all the goodwill Klopp has banked with Reds fans in his first nine months at the club, he’s now only a PL title away from securing his place as an eternal Liverpool legend.

Liverpool will take on Chelsea in each side’s first International Champions Cup fixture Wednesday night (11 p.m. ET) in Pasadena, Calif.

Former Fergie assistant Phelan wants Hull job — “I want to be a manager”

SCUNTHORPE, ENGLAND - JULY 23:  Hull City interim manager Mike Phelan prior to kick off in the pre-season friendly between Scunthorpe United and Hull City at Glanford Park on July 23, 2016 in Scunthorpe, England.  (Photo by Daniel Smith/Getty Images)
Photo by Daniel Smith/Getty Images
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Following Steve Bruce’s sudden and unexpected resignation this week, Hull City find themselves without a first-team manager 20 days before the 2016-17 Premier League opener, which will pit the PL newcomers (again) against the reigning PL champions (not again) Leicester City on Aug. 13.

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The man presently in charge of the club, Mike Phelan, who served as Sir Alex Ferguson‘s no. 2 for a number of years at Manchester United, has essentially no first-team managerial experience, but he’s eager to cut his teeth and wants the job anyway — quotes from the Hull Daily Mail:

“I want to be a manager. I don’t really see why I shouldn’t want to be a manager. Time will tell. That decision doesn’t sometimes come down to you.

“I’ve had a small chat and I was asked if I would carry on being in charge for now. We have games, we have preparations, we’ve still got three weeks to go.

“My job is no different to what it has been except now I’m stood on the touchline in games doing my bit. We just have to do our job, there’s nothing else we can do until the powers that be make their decisions.”

Here’s why it’s (obviously) crazy for the club to delay a final decision any longer than absolutely necessary: with every passing day, important preparations for a PL season, a campaign in which the Tigers will almost certainly be fighting for their top-division status, are being undertaken by an interim boss who, based upon the daily whims of an outgoing owner, may or may not be the man to lead Hull into that 38-game battle.

Phelan previously served as interim manager for Norwich City in 2015, for a period totaling four days.

Int’l Champions Cup: Aurier scores twice as PSG throttle Inter Milan

Paris Saint-Germain's Serge Aurier, right, gets a shot past Inter Milan goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, left, in the first half of the International Champions Cup soccer match at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., Sunday, July 24, 2016. (Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard via AP)
Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard via AP
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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) Serge Aurier scored twice and Paris Saint-Germain beat Inter Milan 3-1 on Sunday at the University of Oregon’s Autzen Stadium.

Layvin Kurzawa also scored for PSG on a free kick in the 61st minute in the International Champions Cup match. Stevan Jovetic scored for Inter Milan on a penalty kick in stoppage time following the first half.

Autzen Stadium, the home football field of the Oregon Ducks, hosted the match, part of the International Champions Cup. Real grass was laid down on the artificial turf field, obscuring the yellow `O’ at midfield.

The International Champions Cup is an exhibition tournament involving 17 teams playing on four different continents. It serves a tuneup for the regular season.

Inter Milan was coming off a 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake earlier in the week in Utah. Striker Mauro Icardi played in that match, and was given the day off against PSG.

Paris Saint-Germain, which beat West Bromwich Albion 2-1 its last time out on July 14 in Austria, is embarking on its first season under Unai Emery, who took over for Laurnet Blanc. In addition to the new manager, PSG will also need to adjust to the departure of enigmatic forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who signed with Manchester United earlier this month.

Ibrahimovic had 38 goals in 31 French league games last season, helping PSG to a fourth successive title. On Sunday midfielder Javier Pastore wore No. 10.

Angel Di Maria, Edinson Cavani and Thomas Meunier entered as subs for Paris Saint-Germain in the second half.

Di Maria had just returned to his club team earlier in the week after taking some time off following the Copa America tournament. He played for his native Argentina in the final, which Chile won on penalty kicks.

David Luiz apparently did not make the trip to Eugene from Los Angeles, where PSG was training.

Aurier, who played in the 2014 World Cup for his native Ivory Coast, left-footed the rebound of a free kick off goalkeeper Samir Handanovic into the bottom left corner.

Inter Milan evened it on Jovetic’s penalty kick into the top right corner in extra time following the first half. The penalty was awarded when Lucas Moura was called for a handball.

Aurier had a good chance in the 57th minute but his shot hit the crossbar. A few minutes later, Kurzawa struck a perfectly placed free kick that Handanovic couldn’t reach that put PSG in front.

Aurier’s second goal was a header off a cross from Alec Georgen in the 87th minute.

Is MLS MVP a three-horse race at the All-Star “break”?

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco laughs after being named Major League Soccer's 2015 Most Valuable Player in Toronto, Wednesday, Dec.  2, 2015. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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With the 2016 MLS All-Star Game set to be played Thursday night (versus Arsenal, at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif.), it got me thinking about the race for this year’s Most Valuable Player award. (If MLS is going to continue holding the All-Star Game every year — and they are — it should include an actual break, as is the case in all other America sports.)

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

While the field is a small one at this point of the campaign, it’s also much closer than it was last year, when Sebastian Giovinco took home the honor in an absolute landslide of a vote.

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

The reigning MVP is on pace for something of a come-down in his second season in MLS, but when you put up 22 goals and 16 assists in your debut campaign, can you really expect to replicate that kind of production from one year to the next? Still, 11 goals (on the most shots in the league – 124) and 7 assists through 20 games (Giovinco has played in 19) has him on pace for 18 goals and 12 assists. Of course, when you consider he snapped a skid of eight games without a goal with a hat trick Saturday night, and that he’s unlikely to endure such a slump through the final 14 games, 18 and 12 should be considered the proverbial floor.

TFC have scored just 25 goals this season, and Giovinco has scored or assisted 18 of them (72 percent).

As for TFC’s present standing and how that impacts Giovinco’s MVP candidacy, fifth place through 20 games is a disappointment considering this was to be “the year” where they were less of a collection of talent, and more a functional team. Of course, injuries (and national team call-ups) have robbed the Reds of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Will Johnson for lengthy periods already. That TFC find themselves presently a playoff team, and a measly six points back of the Eastern Conference’s top spot with two games in hand, should benefit Giovinco’s case more than hurt it.

David Villa, New York City FC

This one’s pretty simple: NYCFC weren’t supposed to be anywhere near the top spot of the East this season, yet that’s where they find themselves at the break, and Villa has spearheaded their unlikely run by scoring 13 goals (most in MLS – on 117 shots – 46 more than the next-closest player) and one assist through 22 games (Villa has played in 21). The question is this, though: will Patrick Vieira’s side still be there come the end of the season? So much of Villa’s claim to MVP is that he’s been the best player on one of the best (and certainly most surprising) teams in MLS this year.

If they’re to fall back into the pack (they’re just two points clear of the New York Red Bulls following Sunday’s 4-1 derby disaster, and only four points from fourth), Villa will quickly fall from MVP candidate to “the best best player on a subpar team.”

New York City FC forward David Villa, left, and New York City FC defender Chris Wingert celebrate Villa's early goal during the first half of the match between New York City FC and Toronto FC, Sunday, July 12, 2015, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
(AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)

Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact

The Impact have, for my money, the most complete roster in the Eastern Conference. Didier Drogba is arguably the most dominant goal-scoring force MLS has ever seen (8 goals in 12 appearances this season; 11 in 11 last year), and the depth in midfield and defense is unparalleled, yet Piatti has been the unrivaled star through the first 20 games of the season (he has played in 18). His 12 goals and 5 assists are rivaled only by Giovinco’s numbers, and he’s been a far more consistent contributor than the Italian (never more than three games without a goal, while playing as a non-forward, unlike Giovinco).

The knock on Piatti has always been his inability to stay healthy and approach a pace of 30 appearances in a single season. Finally consistently healthy in 2016, he’s taken his short-term production and replicated that same kind of output over 90 percent of his team’s games this season. If he can reach 30 games played this year, Piatti has the best chance of stopping Giovinco from becoming the first back-to-back MVP winner in league history.

Montreal Impact's Ignacio Piatti, left, of Argentina, scores a goal as Vancouver Whitecaps' Kendall Waston, of Costa Rica, defends during first half MLS soccer action, in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Sunday, March 6, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
(Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

On the fringe, with a chance to catch the leaders: Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls – 5 goals, 12 assists), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers – 9 goals, 5 assists)