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Tim Ream: Calm, confident, on to Wembley

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“Yes. Simple answer, yes.”

With a match at Wembley on the horizon, Tim Ream is in the form of his life – he knows it, and he isn’t afraid to admit it. The 30-year-old American defender is just now reaching his peak, in stunning form at Fulham.

“I’ve played 46 games now [this season], and the performances and form that I’ve been on – not just from the start of the undefeated run, but going back to the beginning of the year,” Ream told NBC Soccer, “I don’t think there’s anybody that can question the level that I’ve been playing at and question whether it’s the best in my career, because it is without a doubt.”

Ream, in his third season at Fulham and second under manager Slavisa Jokanovic, isn’t really sure why his form is peaking now, but he’s not complaining. “It’s funny because I’ve not changed as a player. I’m no different than I was five years ago to now. I’ve probably honed my positioning sense a little bit more, but that’s always been one of my strengths.”

[ MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann believes U.S. could have made World Cup semifinals ]

Fulham’s not complaining either. The unbeaten streak he referenced earlier was a 23-match Championship run that spanned from late December through the penultimate game of the season. It is easily the longest unbeaten run in Fulham history, and it surpassed Manchester City’s 22-match streak to start the year as the longest in English professional soccer this season.

Tim Ream has been in stellar form all season for Fulham, helping them earn a spot in the Championship Playoff final (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

All that has Fulham in position to make a return to the Premier League for the first time since relegation in 2014, and Ream has been at the heart of it all. The St. Louis product has been Fulham’s most consistent player this season, owning the second-most minutes played on the squad this season behind only 17-year-old phenom Ryan Sessegnon.

The year Ream arrived at Craven Cottage, Fulham conceded an enormous 79 goals, two off the most in the Championship that season. Since, they have buttoned up more the back each campaign, conceding 57 goals in 2016/17 followed by just 46 this year. Ream believes that his ability to execute the beautiful, possession-based style under Jokanovic has led to not just team success, but also his own personal improvement. “The system helps – the style that we play – it helps. When you’re in a system and you play a style that we do, that’s already a strong point of my game, naturally you’re going to play better.”

Fulham owns 55% possession of the ball this season – the tops in the Championship – out-passing every single team in the league by nearly 4,000 completed passes, while completing them at a league-high 83% success rate. Given that, Ream has not only been the lynchpin of the Fulham’s defensive efforts, he is also vital to the club building from the back. The American has the 3rd-most completed passes in the entire Championship, bested only by Fulham’s own midfield partnership in Kevin McDonald and Stefan Johansen.

[ MORE: PST’s Premier League Best XI for the 2017/18 season ]

“Everybody [in the squad] knows what we’re doing,” Ream said, “and we all know where we need to be, and we know where the guy next to us is going to be, where the guy in front of us is…and you’re almost playing on instincts. You know you can put a ball into an area and there is going to be a guy there. It makes the players look very good.

“Players would be lying to you if they said they didn’t want to play in the system we play. We like to possess the ball, and we do it in the right areas, but at the same time we do it from back to front and front to back, and we don’t hide that.”

It wasn’t always like this. Last season, the team finished sixth in the Championship table, but seemed to sputter in big moments and at times struggled to break down more defensive opponents who were comfortable sitting back and absorbing pressure. Even at the beginning of this season, the club was missing a cutting edge, ultimately leaving themselves a big enough hole that even a 23-match unbeaten streak couldn’t pull them completely out of. Jokanovic has taken his time to let the system take hold, and it finally appears to be taking off.

“The Sunderland result when we lost at their place in December was a real eye opener for us. They hadn’t won at home in over a year and we go there and lose 1-0. If I had to point to anything, that was the catalyst for the turnaround because we were so embarrassed and so angry at ourselves because we knew we were a better squad than we were showing. From there, it was kind of just an upward rise from then on. We went and beat Cardiff on Boxing Day and just kept the confidence rolling and were performing very well, and the rest is history.”

With Ream in such good form at 30 years old, it stings a bit that he isn’t able to earn a spot on United States World Cup roster. But he also has a glass-half-full view of his current national team situation. “Obviously it’s a disappointment, but on the other hand, you look at it…would I have been worried about whether I was going to make it or not, whether I was going to be in the squad? Would that have played in my mind? Would I have started putting extra pressure on myself and started to kind of go off the rails with my club? You just don’t know.

“It’s obviously disappointing that I’m on the form that I am and there’s no World Cup, there’s no doubt about that. But you just never know. There’s so many variables.”

At age 30, however, his national team story isn’t over just yet. Ream confirmed he has spoken with interim national team manager Dave Sarachan as recently as within the last three weeks, and is leaving the rest to fate. “At the end of the day it’s not up to me. I can only do what I’m doing here, which is play on a weekly basis and play well, and if that gets me called in then that gets me called in.

Tim Ream played a bit role in the USMNT’s failed 2018 World Cup qualifying bid, but hopes to get more opportunities in the future.

“Do I think I could help [the national team]? Yeah of course. Do I think I could help some of the younger players? Absolutely. But at the end of the day that’s not my decision to make.”

Ream isn’t really focused on all that right now though, because his job at Fulham this season isn’t done. Not just yet. The team still has “the hundred million dollar game” to play, matching up with Aston Villa at Wembley Stadium on May 26 in the Championship Playoff final. Everything could be undone with a loss.

“I don’t think it’s really set in with all the guys here what it means to play there, what it means to the club, to the fans, to everyone associated with Fulham,” Ream said. “It’ll be a special occasion and we have to go out there and prove that we’re worthy.”

Cup finals are different from regular season games, and Ream’s ready to take the form he has built up this season and put it to good use. He knows his team will need him at the back, now more than ever.

“You kind of have to approach the beginning of the game a little differently. I think it’ll be a cagey first 20 minutes, kind of feeling each other out. The game’s probably not going to open up until probably 30 minutes and even moreso in the second half. Listen…you go out there and you don’t play to not lose, you play to win, so we can’t just sit back and hope for the best. We have to go and do what we’ve been doing the second part of this season, and hopefully that puts us in a good position.”

That big game could have big implications not just for Fulham but Ream as well moving forward, and he’s excited. “It’s amazing what confidence can do, and a manager who has confidence in his players and tells them to go out and pass the ball and possess the ball without any fear of making mistakes…you can’t overstate that at all.”

Predicting the 2020 MLS standings

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The 2020 Major League Soccer season is almost here and it is time to assess the offseason for each of the 26 teams and predict how they will stack up in the standings.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Our writers have been asked to predict where each team will finish in the table this season and with two new teams arriving in Nashville SC and Inter Miami, plus plenty of changes in terms of players and coaches across MLS, this was not an easy task. At all.

As we all know by now, Major League Soccer loves to keep it weird and plenty of teams will no doubt surprise us all. Until then, we are going with our hunch.

Below we reveal how we think both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference will look at the end of the 2020 regular season.


Joe Prince-Wright

Eastern Conference
1. Atlanta United
2. New York City FC
3. Toronto FC
4. Philadelphia Union
5. D.C. United
6. New York Red Bulls
7.  Inter Miami
8. Montreal Impact
9. New England Revolution
10. Columbus Crew SC
11. Chicago Fire
12. FC Cincinnati
13. Orlando City SC

Western Conference
1. LAFC
2. LA Galaxy
3. Sporting Kansas City
4. Seattle Sounders
5. Minnesota United
6. Real Salt Lake
7. Portland Timbers
8. Colorado Rapids
9. FC Dallas
10. San Jose Earthquakes
11. Houston Dynamo
12. Vancouver Whitecaps
13. Nashville SC


Nick Mendola

Eastern Conference
1. NYCFC
2. Atlanta United
3. Toronto FC
4. DC United
5. Philadelphia Union
6. Chicago Fire
7. Columbus Crew
8. Montreal Impact
9. FC Cincinnati
10. New England Revolution
11. Orlando City
12. Inter Miami
13. New York Red Bulls

Western Conference
1. LAFC
2. Portland Timbers
3. LA Galaxy
4. Sporting KC
5. Seattle Sounders
6. FC Dallas
7. San Jose Earthquakes
8. Colorado Rapids
9. Vancouver Whitecaps
10. Houston Dynamo
11. Real Salt Lake
12. Minnesota United
13. Nashville SC


Andy Edwards

Eastern Conference
1. New York City FC
2. Atlanta United
3. Toronto FC
4. Philadelphia Union
5. D.C. United
6. Montreal Impact
7. New England Revolution
8. Columbus Crew SC
9. Inter Miami
10. New York Red Bulls
11. Chicago Fire
12. Orlando City SC
13. FC Cincinnati

Western Conference
1. Seattle Sounders
2. LAFC
3. LA Galaxy
4. Real Salt Lake
5. FC Dallas
6. Sporting Kansas City
7. Colorado Rapids
8. Portland Timbers
9. Minnesota United
10. Houston Dynamo
11. San Jose Earthquakes
12. Vancouver Whitecaps
13. Nashville SC


Kyle Bonn

Eastern Conference
1. Atlanta
2. Toronto
3. NYCFC
4. RBNY
5. Philadelphia
6. D.C. United
7. NE Revs
8. Inter Miami
9. Columbus
10. Orlando City
11. Montreal Impact
12. FC Cincinnati
13. Chicago Fire

Western Conference
1. LAFC
2. Seattle
3. Portland
4. RSL
5. LA Galaxy
6. FC Dallas
7. Minnesota
8. San Jose Quakes
9. Sporting KC
10. Houston
11. Vancouver
12. Nashville
13. Colorado

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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The Premier League TV schedule is set and we have your stream links as Matchweek 28 is going to be a lot of fun. Get in there.

Remember, there are eight games this week due to the League Cup final between Aston Villa and Man City.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ]

The full TV schedule for the games this weekend are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today, Sky Sports News, NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” for all the goals as they go in around the grounds. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule and Premier League stream links for the coming days.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Friday
3 p.m. ET: Norwich v. Leicester – NBCSN [STREAM]

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Brighton v. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth v. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Newcastle v. Burnley – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham v. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Watford v. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]

Sunday
9 a.m. ET: Tottenham v. Wolves – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
9 a.m. ET: Everton v. Man United – NBCSN [STREAM]

In the Mixed Zone with JPW: Episode 2

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NBC Sports’ Pro Soccer Talk lead writer and editor Joe Prince-Wright shares his behind-the-scenes access into the Premier League mixed zones highlighting the intriguing interviews from this week’s marquee matches.

This week, JPW shares his mixed zone interviews from Southampton-Aston Villa, Chelsea-Tottenham and Man United-Watford, talks Champions League and previews Matchweek 28.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

He also spoke exclusively with Will Smallbone, Southampton’s latest top academy product who made his PL debut in their win against Aston Villa.

“We’ve had quite a lot of players come through the ranks and you look up to them when you’re younger. To come through myself and hopefully do the best I can, it is very special,” Smallbone said.

To listen to more from the mixed zone with Joe Prince-Wright as he takes you deep inside stadiums, subscribe to In the Mixed Zone with JPW Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow him on Twitter @JPW_NBCSports here.

Click here for In the Mixed Zone with archive ]

Click play below to listen to Episode 2 in full.

Handshake bans as coronavirus precautions hit soccer

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The threat of coronavirus has already led to Europa League games being played behind closed doors, games in Serie A being postponed and now clubs across Europe are telling their staff to not shake hands as the virus continues to spread.

Premier League clubs are taking extra precautions as both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have asked visitors to their training grounds to fill in a health form when they arrive, Bayern Munich have told players not to sign autographs for fans or take selfies for them, while games across Europe have been impacted as Switzerland have banned all games until mid-March and five Serie A games will be played in empty stadiums.

Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce explained to reporters that staff and players will no longer be encouraged to shake hands when they arrive each day around their training ground.

“There’s a ritual here that everybody shakes hands as soon as we see each other every morning – we’ve stopped that on the advice of the doctor,” Bruce confirmed. “Thankfully, we’ve got a superb doctor here and he will keep us informed of what we have to do. We’re like everybody else, we’re glued to the TV for where it’s going to go next and let’s hope it doesn’t get any worse in this country.”

Bruce was asked if he remembered any precautions like this is in the past.

“No, not at all. Look, in confined areas like we’ve got here… There was a time over Christmas when if there’s a virus knocking around – which is not coronavirus – then you have to be careful so we’re a bit mindful of it, the fact that a bug can sweep through. We had four or five at Christmas and two of my staff, so you stay at home, basically. But it’s always something you’re looking at,” Bruce added.

West Ham’s manager David Moyes has revealed that West Ham have a similar plan in place, with fist bumps allowed but no handshakes and every Hammers player has been given some hand gel to use.

“After consulting with the medical team, we have supplied all the players with hand gel to keep with them,” Moyes said. “We’ve also agreed to no shaking hands at the moment, just fist bumps. If we score tomorrow, of course they’ll be able to celebrate.”