ANDY SCHREUR - Tuesday, December 18, 2012
For Tim Ream, 2012 has been a transformative year that has seen its share of peaks and valleys both on and off the field.
The American central defender began the year with his wedding and the completion of his transfer from the New York Red Bulls in MLS to Bolton Wanders of the Premier League. Shortly after, he would make his league debut against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
The rest of the year, however, has not been as smooth for the Saint Louis University product. Bolton were eventually relegated from the Premier League and into the Championship. At the start of the 2012/13, Bolton struggled and Ream was not able to secure consistent playing time.
A low point, however, came in October when Bolton fired head coach Owen Coyle and replaced him with former Crystal Palace coach Dougie Freedman. For Ream, it was especially difficult since it was Coyle who brought him to Bolton and his future was uncertain under Freedman.
"That was probably one of the most stressful times in my entire life," Ream told YA. "I think it's the not knowing of who's going to come in and what their style is going to be and whether you're going to be on the radar and if they're going to like the way you play, it was really difficult."
Freedman's impact and fitness oriented approach was felt immediately by the club's players. It was a significant change in styles but one that Ream believes was necessary.
"I think from top to bottom the team's fitness has improved," Ream explained. "Even guys, like myself, who haven't been playing every game week in and week out, we all feel more prepared going into a weekend and into a game in case we are called upon to contribute and that we are game ready."
Ream's minutes have been inconsistent in the first half of the season. So far in Bolton's 22 matches, Ream has made eight appearances in six starts. The Championship however is a long season and the schedule is crowded in December and January.
Ream has had meetings with Freedman and the rest of the coaching staff and he is still optimistic that he will see the field in the weeks ahead.
"Obviously, it's frustrating to not be playing, but, you know, I've had a few conversations with the staff and I'm knocking on the door to get playing time," Ream said. "It's just a matter of continuing to put your head down and continue to work hard and do the stuff the staff is asking you to do. They've told me that I'm knocking on the door to get minutes coming up here."
One of the reasons why the Bolton coaching staff believes Ream will be useful this season is because of his versatility. In November, the club has been experimenting with playing him as a defensive midfielder to take advantage of his passing strength.
Last season, Ream made some appearances as a midfielder but this year the club seems determined to continue the position switch for perhaps the long-term future.
"They're switching me around," Ream discussed. "It's a position I'm not 100% comfortable with but I've played there. I played there in college and last year against Man City and Tottenham. They pulled me in the next day [after the reserve match] and said I did really, really well and that's where they see me playing."
Off the field, Ream is still adjusting to life in England with his wife after their January wedding. After living two years in the trendy town of Hoboken, New Jersey overlooking the skyline of Manhattan, the move to Bolton has been a significant transition that has not always been smooth. His wife was forced to give up her job on the move and the culture shock has been difficult.
Despite that, Ream believes that he and his wife are gradually getting adjusted to life in the greater Manchester area.
"I think it's going to take a couple of more months until we really feel at home," Ream said. "When we were in New York and living in Hoboken, my wife and I were just talking about how much Hoboken felt like home when we had to move away. I think it's been a little more of struggle with her having to give up a job and having to move to another country, it's not all roses when you move over here."
As different as the cultural differences are between New York and Bolton off the field, they are even more drastic on the field. Bolton Wanderers have struggled in recent years and their once Premier League status has given way to midtable Championship.
Ream's previous club, the Red Bulls, has also suffered disappointments for most of the past decade but Ream notices a clear difference between supporters of the two clubs. The Red Bulls and MLS have their serious supporters but in England and Bolton, the fate of the club captivates the entire town.
"I think Bolton fans are some of the most loyal and passionate fans there are," Ream stated. "They want to see us do well because we're their team. I think that's something that's very different from the States in that you have the casual observer there and here, there is no such thing as the casual observer."
Despite Ream's diminished playing time, he remains positive. 2012 has indeed been a learning experience through rocky times but he strongly believes that he is a superior player now than he was just a year ago.
"From a tactical aspect, being in the correct position and knowing where to be, when-that's definitely improved," Ream concluded. "Then I think the biggest thing that's improved is my awareness of throughout the 90 minutes. In MLS you can kind of turn off and not be turned for parts of the game. Here [in England], you have to be tuned in for the entire 90 minutes. As soon as you switch off, you're going to be punished. When your first Premier League game is against Chelsea and the next week you're playing Man City, it definitely teaches you pretty quick."
Ream and Bolton return to action on Saturday when they visit Peterborough United.