This is an interview by TSG scribe, fellow FC Black Sox teammate, and one-time Malawian National Team assistant coach, Jason Price.
MLS announced its Rookie of the Year award yesterday and it wasn’t Tim Ream.
But all is not lost for the Red Bulls’ second round draft pick who has already quietly secured another, perhaps more extraordinary honor.
Along with the Rapids’ square-jawed central defender Drew Moor, Ream is one of only two men to have played in every minute of every match in the 2010 MLS season – an astounding feat for a rookie central defender, and probably the best statistical evidence of his coolness and consistency, not to mention the faith and trust he’s garnered from “genius” Head Coach Hans Backe.
Ream was TSG’s choice for Rookie of the Year mainly due to his remarkable consistency amidst a constantly evolving “worst to first” squad that spent much of the year tinkering – deploying upwards of eight central midfielders in front of him throughout the campaign, and shifting his central pairing mid-stream in the process.
Yet an emphasis on consistency should not obscure our appreciation of his ability.
Defensively, he exhibits a sharp tactical mind with an excellent sense of timing and space most readily evident in his skill at springing off-sides traps; he is patient, yet decisive, and generally knows when to stay and when to come, and when he does come, he rarely allows attacking players to turn on him; he is deceptively strong and quick, so he wins the majority of testing long balls coming down route 1 and regularly provides adequate cover along the flanks.
Offensively, Ream’s cool disposition on the ball is something that at least this reporter has failed to see in any other American center backs. In addition, he has excellent vision and technique; he moves the ball quickly and is more apt to make positive rather than negative or neutral passes; he also rarely sends the ball long without a target. He notched only a single goal during this campaign, but was unlucky to have not secured more.
Ream is probably not yet ready for a Champion’s League move just yet, but what makes that shift not entirely out of the question in the future is, in part, a confidence tempered with a sense of humility that displays a keen awareness of the player’s own limits. Add onto this that he seems to let go of his mistakes pretty quickly and that he gets to spend next season working with Rafa Marquez and there’s good reason to be optimistic – a sentiment Backe expressed early on in a widely circulated quotation that many must have considered hyperbole or wishful thinking at the time:
“He has a future. I don’t want to say too much, but Ream has a chance to be a national team player. He’ a center back who is comfortable and calm in possession of the ball. He plays a good passing game, he’s an excellent passer. A European-type center back who, I think, reminds me of Rio Ferdinand in the Premier League. Ream is strong tactically and never stressed, and of course he’s good in the air. He has top class attitude and spirit.”
Of course now the question is not if, but when he will get his first invite into a USMNT camp after Coach Sweatpants singled out the lad as an exciting prospect for the upcoming cycle.
As Ream’s star rises, TSG caught up with Metros veteran and all-times appearances leader, Mike Petke, after Saturday night’s Red Bull victory.
Petke began the season as Ream’s initial partner in the Red Bull central defense, though he has since moved out of the first eleven in favor of fellow New Yorker, Carlos Mendes.
Due to retire at the end of this season after clocking 13 years and 307 games in the league (and accumulating 70 cautions and 7 ejections along the way), Petke revealed to TSG that he plans “to stay with the new Red Bull organization. What role that’s going to be is going to be determined very soon. We’re just concentrating on the playoffs right now and once that’s over we’re going to figure out what I’m going to do. But I definitely want to stay in this organization, I care about this organization, it’s where I’m from and I’m excited about what their doing…”
This will come as encouraging news to many Metros fans. Petke is one of the great, first generation MLS guys, and along with John Wolyniec, he provides a sense of history and continuity to an organization that has often been known for its fitful discontinuity.
Below is a transcript of our conversation with Petke, most of it centers on his assessment of Ream. What was most striking to us was his self-effacement, along with his sincere investment in the club, and in developing its talent.
TSG: A little bit about how the team works in terms of mentoring….
MP: I could only speak for myself, and playing for this club for so long and what the club means to me, it’s very important for the young guys, to get a veteran to pull em aside and with someone like Tim Ream, I’ve been doing that constantly the whole year. I have a very good relationship with him. I see something in him that everybody sees as well, and the potential that he has for the future – personally, as well as for the Red Bulls is, is… phenomenal. And it’s important for someone with experience to pull him aside and give him some encouragement when he needs it and kick him in the ass when he needs it as well. Not to make him read the press too much, you know I think he’s done a phenomenal job. I think he’s without a doubt one of the future of American soccer. And it’s been a pleasure to have some one like him come to me for advice all year, and me being able to give him hopefully some good advice.
TSG: How good is he technically?
MP: I mean he’s phenomenal technically. He’s head and shoulders above someone like myself… I mean he was a 2nd or 3rd round pick for us… You know, I’m a 1st round pick for us 13 years ago and he is head and shoulders above what I was coming into this league, and head and shoulders above most people coming into this league with his technical ability and also just his composure, you know? I mean, you get him in tight situations – and it’s not a new thing, nothing he learned this year, from the first day of pre-season on… you get him in tight situations with pressure and he’s just so smooth on the ball, you know?
And on the flip side, he has the defending ability and the pace that if he does occasionally make a mistake – make a bad pass or maybe hold the ball too long – he’s the first one getting that ball back.
And I think a lot of it is athleticism that you can’t teach in him, but also he comes from a good program – St. Louis University – and a lot of players come out of college need that buffer – you know a couple of months to a year – to get used to the pace and everything and Tim is that special guy, that really just came in and, between his technical ability and his athleticism, he just fit right in.
I mean you very rarely see Tim kick the ball long out of pressure… bootin’ the ball long. I’d say 7 out of 10 times he’s collecting the ball with a guy running in his face and playing a nice pass, and connecting that pass. And that’s – even for veterans, even for players that have been in the league for a while – you know that doesn’t happen to everybody. He’s able to do that. He has confidence in himself, and he knows his ability, and that’s a special thing.
TSG: He doesn’t seem to hold onto mistakes…
MP: Honestly, I think he’s mature enough that he understands the ability he has, and how well he’s done, and the potential that he has going forward. I just think he’s mature enough to know that by holding onto things like that – the mistakes that he makes – is only going to make him play… you know… is only going to hinder his performance. But I also think it has a lot do with his upbringing, his family, his background… He’s a very grounded kid. He’s very mature beyond his years and he knows he’s going to make mistakes. You know if you dwell on them, you’re gonna make more mistakes. If you learn from them and move on you’re gonna be better for it.
TSG: And his communication…
MP: Tim’s communication is something that I’ve pushed on him from the beginning. You know, early on when I was starting, I knew that the time was gonna come that he was gonna take this team. Be the man on the team. You know sooner than later. And he was very quiet in the beginning, I don’t know if it was because he knew… I’m 13 years in the league, you know, the veteran I am. I don’t know if he was scared to say something but, little by little, even when I was playing I was telling him, “Listen, you need to… you need to take over.” You know? Not something that one day I said, “I’m stoppin talkin and you’re gonna talk all the time” but “you need to pick up your communication a lot more and don’t be afraid to get in people’s faces”. And slowly but surely, he’s gotten that point. And I think that that’s only gonna make him better as well you know? To have a player of his abilities completely quiet in the back, all game… he’s not seeing his whole potential. And just, by talking so much and giving the right direction… I mean, it makes him that much more valuable.
TSG: So when does that happen? When you move out of the first eleven…
MP: No, like I said, it started happening a couple games before that. I didn’t know I was getting out of the starting eleven, but I knew this was most likely my last year and… You know Tim really struck a chord with me this year you know. I really… I really genuinely care about the kid…
TSG: Yeah, Because you could be just like, “Oh this guy…”
MP: Well yeah, I think like 5 years ago I would have been. I would have been very threatened. I would have been… you know, just like a normal, competitive person but… you know… I hold the kid up on a pedestal – you know, I love em – and like I said before, I know he’s the future of this team you know. Whether that future is next year or in a couple years but he needs to start… you know he can’t be the shy kid. He can’t be the quiet kid. He’s gotta… you know he’s gotta take control now. And lead this team from the back, and that’s what he’s been doin.
TSG: How long do you think he lasts, though, in this league?
MP: Before he goes overseas, you mean? Well, if this league is smart… they make him one of the highest paid the next year or two, and maybe he’ll stay. You know, besides that… I don’t know… I can’t speak on what offers he’s had or anything – that’s between him and his family, his agent – but… the kid’s good. The kid’s special and he’s definitely gonna have offers. It’s just a matter of what the best offer for him and his family is.