Jan 26, 2012

With Tim Ream, Bolton's Defense Gets Some Sorely-Needed Help

Tim Ream, whom Bolton acquired from the New York Red Bulls this week, is a quality defender and very nice young man who should help the team in its struggle against relegation. Bolton fans should just be advised against expecting too much, too soon.

I watched Ream closely the last two seasons at Red Bull and actually met with him a few times. He is humble, polite and well-spoken, a demeanor that (surprisingly perhaps for an American defender) is reflected in his appearance on the pitch. In his position in central defense, the St. Louis native is calm and collected. What he lacks in size and speed (again unusual for an American soccer player, much less one who was just acquired by a Premiership team) he makes up for in positioning, tackling skills and ability to read the game. His passing is underrated.

So the English press will certainly find a lot to like about the 24-year old (he turns 25 in October) and his midwestern levelheadedness. At Red Bull, he and his fiancee lived in a modest apartment and took public transport home from matches (true story, I ran into him once).

Still, Bolton should be advised against expecting a savior. In New York (actually New Jersey), Ream had the benefit of being a virtual unknown who wasn't even selected in the first round of the Major League Soccer draft. He had an entire preseason to get acquainted with his teammates and competition--with nobody watching, as MLS is essentially ignored by major media outlets. Additionally, Ream was a late bloomer who had not even been capped at any youth levels. So it's not even accurate to say expectations were low--there were no expectations. Quite literally: none.

At Bolton things will be a lot different. For one, there are the shoes of Gary Cahill to fill. And while the transfer fee of $2.75 million is chump change for the Man Citys and Chelseas of the world, it is a not insignificant amount for a club like Wanderers. Obviously the competition will be much fiercer. Premier league clubs have some of the best attackers on the planet in their ranks. An entirely different stratosphere from the guys who ply their trade in MLS.

Also, Ream's game is not flawless. There is the aforementioned lack of speed and strength, which could be lethal in a league as fast as the Premiership. Also, in his sophomore season in particular he suffered several mental lapses, which caught the ire of teammate Rafa Marquez. While the Mexican international is a notorious hothead whose views were denounced by coaches and teammates, they were not without merit, and Ream even admitted as much. There can also be concern about how much, if any "upside" there is left in a soon-to-be 25-year old defender whose professional experience is limited to North America and who has not always impressed in his few appearances with Jurgen Klinsmann's national side.

The stakes at the Reebok are great. With 19 points from 22 matches, the 17th-placed Trotters have no margin for error. This from a club that has conceded a league-worst 47 goals so far this season (and that was with Cahill). Two of the team's next four fixtures are against Chelsea and Manchester City. So Bolton don't only need Ream, they need him at the top of his game ready to contribute immediately. While there is reason to believe Ream will develop into a bonafide Premier Leaguer in time, that may be expecting a little too much.

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