photo by John Dorton/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When Bob Bradley reflects on the U.S. national team's March camp, one of the major things he'll take away from it is the play of some of his younger players, and that doesn't only refer to Juan Agudelo and Timmy Chandler.
It also refers to Tim Ream.
In just his third cap for the United States, Ream once again demonstrated the type of calmness and composure on the ball that is rare among American centerbacks, helping the U.S. team dictate much of the flow in a 1-0 loss to Paraguay. He also put in a good 90 minutes defensively, dealing well with Oscar Cardozo and Hernan Perez.
"Ream certainly again showed that coming out of the back, his composure on the ball, his passing is a big plus," Bradley said. "His ability to size up options, play the ball forward, find midfielders, find advanced players, mix up passes, that's all good, and he continues to learn defensively in these games. But I thought he handled most situations pretty well tonight."
The 23-year-old Ream put forth arguably his best 90 minutes in a U.S. jersey thus far, connecting on the majority of his passes. Ream even hit a pass on one occasion after he slipped on the slick turf at LP Field, kicking the ball while on the ground to a teammate right before a Paraguay attacker got to it.
Along with initiating multiple attacks, the New York Red Bulls centerback also appeared to be an outlet players were comfortable passing to, maybe even a little too comfortable. There were a couple of instances where a Paraguay player was in Ream's vicinity and U.S. teammates still opted to pass it back to him. Ream repaid their faith in him, spraying pinpoint passes to the wings and to midfielders Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu and substitute Jermaine Jones.
"I thought he had a very good game. I thought he played very well," said Landon Donovan. "He is probably our best passer out of the back. He's comfortable with the ball, he's comfortable making decisions and I thought his defending was very good. He's another guy that if he keeps progressing he can help us a lot."
Ream said after the game that part of the reason for his success was due to him playing with the core group of U.S. players. In his previous two caps, against South Africa and Chile, Ream played with a much younger and less experienced side, so having talented players like Donovan and Clint Dempsey to release passes to made things simpler.
"I felt good. Obviously not as shaky as the first couple of games with the national team," Ream said. "All those guys make it so much easier. The way they move and just their whole positioning, it just makes everything easier, easier to move the ball. And there's so much communication, which for a young guy like myself is huge."
Helping his team keep possession is his forte, but Ream looked strong defensively as well. Granted, Paraguay mostly looked to hit back on the counter, but even when the South Americans tried that, Ream was up for the challenge.
That was something Ream really wanted to do, saying after the game that staying strong defensively is the biggest issue with how he plays.
One other issue Ream wanted to face head on was adjusting to the speed of play at the international level. Bob Bradley said Monday during his press conference that the speed was a bit fast for Ream at times, and the Saint Louis University product agreed following Tuesday's loss.
"Obviously it's going to be faster than MLS. To be honest, it was even faster than the January camp and the South Africa trip in November, so there is a little bit of a difference," Ream said. "But over the last 10 days in training, I think I knew that coming in so it wasn't so much of a shock."
Whether it be the speed of play or his positioning, Ream will need to continue to work on his game while with the Red Bulls. The Gold Cup is a little more than two months away from starting, and Ream is still fighting for a spot on the roster with the likes of the experienced Clarence Goodson and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Los Angeles Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez.
Ream, however, is confident that his three performances with the United States have boosted his chances of being selected for the Gold Cup.
"Look, I wouldn't be able to put a number on it, but I feel pretty confident without being cocky and saying I'm going to be there," he said. "The (chances are) as good as anybody else's, right?"
With his unique ability to accurately pass the ball and start an attack, his chances might be even better.