It's been a strange and difficult season for Tim Ream, as it has for the New York Red Bulls in general. Thrust into the spotlight after a successful first year for the second round draft pick from Saint Louis University, he played for the United States in the Gold Cup, was selected for the MLS All-Star Game and has been followed by Arsenal, something that lead many to come to the conclusion that Ream could do no wrong (*insert Arsenal defence joke*).
Unfortunately for Ream, though, he has shown some limitations this season, which is understandable for someone in their second professional season. His positioning and physicality has been poor at times, no better exemplified by the goal scored by Jamie Ayovi, where the Ecuadorian got in front of Ream to head past Tim Howard. His performances for the Red Bulls haven't been much better, as the Red Bulls have failed to hold onto to leads and have given up some silly goals over the course of the MLS season. In September, Ream was one of the implied recipients of Rafa Marquez's comments about the Red Bull defence, after Ream's bad pass gave Real Salt Lake a 1-0 lead.
Since Marquez's comments, Ream has formed a solid partnership with Steven Keel, and his performances have improved. His passing has always been a strong suit, leading to comparisons to Rio Ferdinand by his manager, Hans Backe. His tackling and heading, though, along with his positional sense, has improved in recent weeks, culminating in yesterday's excellent performance against the Philadelphia Union.
Up against one of the more inform strikers of the league, Sebastien Le Toux, Ream and Keel had an excellent game, limiting Le Toux to just one shot and Philadelphia to one shot on target overall. His passing was a good 77%, and most of his unsuccessful passes were long balls into the channel. When Ream decided to play it short, he rarely gave the ball away, enabling the Red Bulls to maintain possession and take the tempo out of the game. He made seven clearances, three interceptions and didn't lose a tackle. When the Red Bulls were under pressure in the second half, Ream was equal to the set pieces and numerous crosses. It was a remarkably composed performance, something that has been rare this season.
At this point, it must be remembered that Ream has played less than 60 league games. It's his second season and he's a second round draftee. Because he can pass the ball somewhat well, a rare trait for American center backs, he's been labelled, perhaps unfairly, as the next big American prospect to go to Europe, and someone who is like Rio Ferdinand. Rio Ferdinand, though, made mistakes within his first 60 games. Most young defenders do, because of a lack of experience. If we remember that about Ream, maybe we won't be so quick to label him as a failure, and maybe we can lower our expectations of him until he becomes more experienced. Hyping up Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore didn't work for US Soccer, which indicates it's time for a different approach.