Pep Guardiola favourite Tim Ream: USMNT's best player in Europe this season

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Tim Ream Fulham 2022-23 HIC 16:9
The American defender has taken his game to a new level at an age when most players' careers would be winding down.

It's somewhat hard to believe now but when the U.S. men's national team's World Cup squad was announced in November, Tim Ream was something of a shock inclusion.

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After more than a year out of the picture, Ream was suddenly back just in time for Qatar.

At age 35, the centerback was going to be reintroduced to the second-youngest team at the World Cup after being largely excluded during qualifying.

Shortly after announcing that decision, USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter was asked to explain it, and he did so by using a story.

“Tim Ream just played against Man City and after the game, [Pep] Guardiola walks up to him and says, ‘If you were 24 instead of 34, you’d be playing for me,'” Berhalter said on Futbol Americas.

“Tim said, ‘It’s too bad, I’m not even 34, I’m 35!'"

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We all know what happened next. Ream became an integral part of the USMNT's run at the World Cup and was, arguably, the team's best player in Qatar.

And now, as the 2022-23 European seasons roll on, Ream has built on that World Cup momentum, solidifying his place among the Premier League's elite with his performances week in, week out.

So, maybe Guardiola wasn't exaggerating at all...

  1. At the World Cup

    At the World Cup

    In an alternate universe, Ream wouldn't have even gone to Qatar, and the decision would have been his.

    "To see [Gregg Berhalter's] name pop up on my phone, I was just like, 'No way, this could not be possible,'" he explained to Men in Blazers. "It took some convincing [for me to go to Qatar].

    "I can be completely honest, the way things had gone, I just wasn't in the right place mentally right then and there with that first phone call to say, 'Yeah I'm there.' Because I wasn't fully confident that they were confident that I could help the team, and so I told him I had to sleep on it."

    He slept on it and, ultimately, made the right decision as Ream was the USMNT's rock at the World Cup. The defender started all four of the USMNT's matches and was virtually flawless as he helped lead the U.S. to the knockout round.

    In what will likely be his first and only World Cup appearance, Ream didn't put a foot wrong, batting away attacks from Wales, England, Iran and the Netherlands while finally achieving a dream that had been a long time coming.

  2. The road back

    The road back

    For years, Ream has been a regular figure at Craven Cottage. He joined Fulham in 2015 after three-and-a-half seasons with Bolton and, in the seasons since, he's made over 250 league appearances for the club.

    However, one looming criticism that had hung over Ream was that he hadn't ever quite done it in the Premier League.

    The defender had spent two seasons with Fulham in the top flight, making 33 total appearances. However, both times Fulham had reached English soccer's mountaintop, they stumbled right back down into the Championship after immediate relegation.

    In fact, in 2020-21, Fulham's last season in the top flight prior to the current one, Ream made just seven appearances, signaling that his chance at really proving himself at that level was likely over.

    At least it seemed that way until this season.

  3. Fulham's iron man
    Getty Images

    Fulham's iron man

    It's safe to say that Ream, at 35, has taken the Premier League by storm in a way that few could have predicted.

    He's played all but two minutes this season for Fulham and is one of only two players – the other being Andreas Perreira – to start every game.

    But it's not just been the fact that Ream has been on the field, but the level he's played at consistently throughout the season.

    This season, Ream is 11th in the Premier League in headed clearances, ninth in blocks and ninth in overall clearances.

    Those numbers put him right up there with the league's elite defenders, with Ream himself playing at that level for the entirety of the season so far.

    In addition, Ream routinely leads Fulham in touches and passes in individual games, showing further evidence that the veteran has evolved into a calm, collected ball-playing centerback in recent years.

  4. Team success
    Getty Images

    Team success

    It's not just Ream's performances that have made him standout, but rather the efforts put forth by Fulham as a unit.

    Heading into this weekend's clash with Arsenal, a match that could see Ream & Co. do Guardiola and Manchester City a huge favor in the Premier League title race, Fulham sit seventh in the lead.

    They're not just playing spoiler here in March of the Premier League season; they're fighting for their own chance at European soccer.

    Fulham have conceded just 34 goals in 26 games, comparable to Tottenham (36 in 26) and Manchester United (35 in 25), two heavyweights just a few spots above them in the table.

    As things stand, Fulham are in a real fight for a Europa or Conference League spot. If you believe in miracles, you could even say they're still alive in the Champions League race as they sit six points out of the top four.

    Fulham haven't played in Europe since 2011-12 when Clint Dempsey was leading the charge but Marco Silva and his players have very realistic aspirations of attaining continental competition next season as the current campaign enters its final months.

  5. USMNT's Player of the Season?

    USMNT's Player of the Season?

    Based on individual and team success, it's hard to argue anyone other than Ream has been the USMNT's best player in Europe this season.

    Sure, Tyler Adams has played well for Leeds but it's hard to make a strong case for the midfielder due to his team's struggles. His teammate, Brenden Aaronson, started hot but has since come crashing down to Earth, while Weston McKennie is still too new to the Premier League.

    Antonee Robinson is in the mix, although Ream has been Fulham's true standout. Cameron Carter-Vickers and Malik Tillman have been good, too, but no one would compare the Scottish top flight to the English.

    Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna, meanwhile, have been hampered by injuries, while Tim Weah was in and out of Lille's lineup before making the move to left back.

    Perhaps the closest contender is someone that wasn't on the World Cup roster, Ricardo Pepi, who has double-digit goals for FC Groningen and could score more as he looks to ensure their Eredivisie survival.

    But, let's be honest, there isn't an American player currently playing at the same standard as Ream, as the defender has reached a gear unmatched by any of his young teammates.

  6. The future
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    The future

    He may be in the final years of his career, but it seems Ream has plenty left to give.

    His contract runs through 2023-24 and, on current form, it's hard to imagine Fulham wanting to move on. Ream, also, would likely love the opportunity to play in a UEFA competition, having not yet done so in his career.

    He's long been linked with a move to MLS, particularly to his hometown club St. Louis SC, but, on current form, Ream could surely stick it out in Europe for another year if he so desires.

    As for the national team, it'll be hard for Anthony Hudson and then whoever the next permanent coach is to ignore him. There's the Gold Cup this summer and the Copa America in 2024.

    Could Ream stick around that long? We'll find out.