Ream’s club season has ended, with Bolton finishing mid-table in the English League Championship in a season that saw Ream settle well and establish himself as a regular starter. He played well enough to earn the club’s Player of the Year honors, while also playing himself back onto the U.S. national team radar.
Though he wouldn’t go as far as confirming he would be a part of next week’s U.S. pre-World Cup training camp, the fact that he was at Red Bull Arena training rather than enjoying the start to his offseason suggests that he is a very good bet to be part of the 30-player squad Jurgen Klinsmann takes to Stanford University next week.
“Anybody who plays this game from a young age, it’s a dream to play in the World Cup,” Ream said on Friday. “Obviously, being a defender, you don’t think about scoring a winning goal, but I think everybody from a young age thinks about scoring a goal and playing in a World Cup. I’m no different.
“It would be a huge honor to represent your country and play in a World Cup. I don’t think there would be too many other better feelings – other than having a baby – but it would be great.”
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Ream has played his way onto Klinsmann's radar, having earned a call-up for the March friendly against Ukraine. He passed on the invitation due to the birth of his first child, but the call-up confirmed what he had been hearing. That the U.S. national team was fully aware of his success at Bolton this season.
“I was told through the grapevine, through multiple people, that they’ve had people out watching the games, but I couldn’t tell you what games specifically," Ream said. "I just played like someone was watching every game and hopefully that puts me in a good spot.”
Ream's transition from MLS to England was anything but smooth. After joining Bolton on a $2.75 million transfer that set a new record for an MLS defender, Ream struggled to adapt as the Trotters also struggled to stay up. Relegation followed after the 2011-12 season, meaning Ream would have to adjust to a new league and new style just half a season after having made the transition from MLS to the Premier League.
“The biggest thing is the adjustment on the field. It’s a quicker game over there and then when you get relegated and you move down in the Championship it’s a more physical game and it’s even quicker still," Ream said. " It was definitely a challenge to adjust to that. I don’t think many people realize how big of an adjustment off the field it is as well."
The 2013-14 season was filled with adjustments for Ream, who played a variety of roles for Bolton. He saw time in central midfield and all across the backline. He handled the variety of assignments with skill, playing well enough to earn Bolton's Player of the Year award.
"It’s just a matter of getting in a groove really and getting consistent playing time and finally I was able to get that this year," Ream said. "And, really, as I played more games my confidence continued to grow and that’s just the way the game goes. When you’re playing well, you continue to play well. If you have a couple of rough games, it starts to play on your mind a little bit.
"Really, in all honesty, I just tried to do exactly what I did my first year here in New York and that’s just forget about mistakes and just play the game.”Playing in the League Championship over the past two seasons has meant being largely out of sight from American fans whose lasting images of Ream were of a defender struggling to find consistency both on the national team and with the New York Red Bulls. After a breakout 2010 that saw him finish as a finalist for MLS Rookie of the Year, Ream found himself fast-tracked into the U.S. national team picture in 2011, but the sudden success led to some struggles.
Mistakes began creeping into Ream's game, most memorably his struggles in the 2011 Gold Cup, when he started in the group stages before being benched for the knockout rounds. Ironically enough, Ream spent Friday practicing in the same stadium where his last national team appearance came, a 2011 match against Ecuador that saw him burned for a late goal in a 1-0 loss.
More than two and a half years later, Ream is more mature, and more confident. and having settled in well at Bolton, he admits to having had thoughts about a national team return. A call-up last August to the U.S. team's match against Bosnia and Herzegovina served as the first step towards a return even though he didn't wind up playing. The more recent call-up in March provided the first bit of evidence that he might be doing enough to make his way back onto the World Cup radar.
"“It’s one of those things that was in the back of my mind, but if you’re not playing at your club you don’t really have a shot. I tried not to think about it, and just let my playing do the talking and that’s all you can do," Ream said. "Whether I’m in or out, at this point, it’s not up to me anymore. You’re always thinking about games coming up, and whether they be friendlies or qualifiers – now you have the camp and then the World Cup – obviously it’s on your mind.
"But again, I tried not to think about it much. You just play your game and hopefully everything else takes care of itself.”