HARRISON, N.J. — Tim Ream was in familiar territory on Thursday, holding court at Red Bull Arena as the U.S. national team held its final training session ahead of Friday's World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica.
Ream began his professional career seven years ago on the same field where he stood Thursday. Back in 2010 he was a little-known rookie who few could have envisioned eventually making a multi-million dollar move to the English Premier League and becoming a regular on the USMNT. It is a road that has had its tough moments, but Ream can't help but smile at the realization his career has already exceeded any expectations he may have had the first time he set foot in Red Bull Arena.
"At the time [in college] if you had told me I'd be here with the national team and somewhat established I might have laughed in your face," Ream said. "I don't think I could have envisioned what my career has been and has become. It's something that's a lot of hard hours, a lot of long hours and a lot of sacrifices in areas that people who aren't around professional sports don't understand."
Seven years later, Ream heads into Friday's qualifier a leading candidate to start in central defense alongside Geoff Cameron. His most recent contribution to the national team, a steady showing against Mexico back in June, has made him the leading candidate to step in for injured starter John Brooks.
"Personally, I want to be starting games, but we all know as a national team you may be the star and start for your club team and come in with your national team and temper expectations and take on a different role," Ream said. "I think that's the beauty of this team.
"Right now I'm one of those 'Next man up' types and for me to be next man up and come in and show that you have the ability to help out the squad in any way that you can is something that right now I'm very well aware of and something I've embraced."
The Fulham defender has enjoyed a solid career in England, where he began with Bolton before the club's relegation to the Championship. A move to Fulham two seasons ago has been a fruitful one for Ream, who has become a regular starter at a club with a rich tradition of American players.
It is his play at Fulham that helped earn Ream a return to the national team picture after several years out of the mix. He was thrust into the national team setup in just his second season as a professional — after an impressive rookie season with the Red Bulls in 2010 — but struggles for both club and country plagued him during what should have been a breakout year.
Those struggles didn't keep him from making a move to Bolton, and even though it took him some time to re-establish himself with the national team, he has now become a regular call-up, becoming one of the team's top left-footed center back options.
Will Ream get the call on Friday against Costa Rica? He looks a good bet to be partnered with Geoff Cameron, but is also facing stiff competition from Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler for the starting role.
"I think Bruce has shown, even going back to the March friendlies, that’s there’s competition," Ream said. "Even when [John Brooks] is in there’s competition. He’s not afraid to shuffle the pack and change things up, and choose pairings that he sees as the optimal pairing for that match depending on what the strikers are doing, or the team as a whole that we’re playing."
If Ream does get the start, he will be doing so in the stadium where his career began, a place that still brings him good vibes when he returns.
"It’s still really home," Ream said. "It was a place that gave me a chance to shine and prove myself on the professional level. There’s still a lot of people here that were here when I was, and that was five, five and a half years now. You don’t find that at a lot of clubs these days, so it’s nice to see some familiar faces and some old friends and it’s just nice to be back and see the things you used to see every day. It’s a little bit nostalgic really."