Tim Ream Will Square Off Against Clint Dempsey Tomorrow

Since his arrival from MLS’s New York Red Bulls in late January, U.S. defender Tim Ream has quietly and quickly played his way into the starting lineup at Bolton, helping the club climb out of the relegation zone.

He’s played against both Chelsea and Manchester City in the past three months, as Wanderers have inched from 19th to 16th in the Premier League. But they’re still just one point above the drop, and that makes every game of the stretch run crucial—including this week’s match against visiting Fulham.

For Ream, the encounter has the added wrinkle of being the first time he’ll face fellow U.S. national teamer Clint Dempsey in a competitive game.

Dempsey is in the midst of arguably the greatest season ever by an American outfield player, with 13 Premier League goals and 19 across all competitions. (He also had one goal dubiously disallowed for rebounding in off the goalkeeper.)

Ream recently spoke to U.S. Soccer about tomorrow’s match, the adjustments he’s had to make to compete in the Premier League, and Fabrice Muamba. Below are some highlights. Click here for the entire interview.

On the primary differences between the Premier League and MLS:

“There are a couple. The biggest one is the talent all over the field at every position, no matter who you play. Obviously there are talented guys in MLS, but you don’t have the talent at every single position like you do here. You play the Man Citys and the Chelseas, they have a quality international player at every spot. That’s definitely a big difference. And then the speed of play. It’s different, but it’s not as crazy of a difference as most people would think. Physically, I’ve had to step that up another notch and continue to improve upon that because that’s what got me last year was not being physical enough. That’s something that I’ve learned and something that I continue to have to work on.”

On what it would mean for Ream and Bolton to shut down Dempsey tomorrow:

“It’s something that I’ve definitely thought about the last couple days. It’s not just going to be me. It’s going to take a real team effort to shut him down and to shut their team down. I’ll get a lot of pointers, even though I’ve played with him multiple times. The guys that play around me have played against him more and I think you learn more from playing against him and knowing what he does in the run of play than you do playing with him…. So I think it will be a big sense of pride if we can shut him down and shut the team down and come away with three points.”

On settling in so quickly with Bolton:

“Yeah [I feel good about it]. It’s hard for a player when you’re used to playing every game and then you come to a team and you don’t play. I’ve been very fortunate that in my time in New York I was able to step right in. Now coming here, I feel really good about my play and I feel great that I’ve been able to step in and contribute to the team and help us get out of relegation at the moment. I’m definitely happy, and a little bit surprised. But at the same time I know what I’m capable of, and I knew coming in here that I’d be able to help the team out and step in and help win games.”

Fox Soccer has the Bolton–Fulham match on tape-delay at 5:00 pm ET tomorrow.

Ecuador 1, U.S. 0: aka the End of Tim Ream’s USMNT Career (For Now)

The U.S. fell to Ecuador 1-0 at Red Bull Arena last night to run their record under new coach Jurgen Klinsmann to 1-3-1, with two goals scored.

Not a rousing start for the new boss, results-wise, but fortunately, results don’t matter right now, and there were some encouraging signs last night.

The Yanks dominated the first half and played some stylish one-touch soccer. The five U.S. substitutions in the second half changed the game, and not for the better.

Let’s look at the ups and downs of the new boss’s fifth outing with the team:

The Good

1.    Oguchi Onyewu is 100% Again

Gooch is back to his old self, positioning well, cutting out entry passes, and of course, winning anything in the air within a 20-yard radius of his 6-4, 210-pound frame. He even got into the attack a few times last night, and nearly set up Clint Dempsey for a late equalizer. His rock-solid presence also lifted centerback partner Carlos Bocanegra, who was able to play more aggressively. They were a first-class duo last night; too bad Bocanegra is 32 and unlikely to be on the Brazil 2014 roster (Gooch is 29. And just as a refresher, his wife looks like this.)

2.    Remember those slow starts under Bob Bradley?

The team appears to have been cured of that condition under Klinsmann, and last night the U.S. got off to a lightning-fast start, with Jozy Altidore testing Ecuador keeper Maximo Banguera in the very first minute, and Brek Shea following suit four minutes later (a play not included in the highlights below).

3.    Left-side lockdown

The left-back, left-wing combination of Timmy Chandler and Shea had another quality outing, controlling play on that side of the field and completely hemming in none other than Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia. This is a huge development in an area that has long been a trouble spot for the USMNT. Said Klinsmann afterward: “[Valencia] is a very, very good player but you couldn’t see him at all because Timmy Chandler closed him completely down.”

The Bad

1.    Tim Ream played himself out of the pool—for now.

Klinsmann inserted Ream into the game in the 71st minute—no doubt to give the 24-year-old a taste of national-team play in his home stadium. But the move proved costly as Ream was slow to react to Jaime Ayovi’s knifing run in front of goal eight minutes later. Ayovi beat the Red Bulls defender to the cross (from Ayovi’s cousin, Walter Ayovi) and nodded home the game’s only goal. It was a rudimentary lapse by Ream, a talented player who has admitted to a sophomore slump this season. He needs to re-focus his game at the club level before he gets another call-up from Klinsmann.

2.    Finishing!

There was a promising sequence (also not included below; what’s up with that, US Soccer?) late in the first half in which the U.S. strung together a series of one-touch passes around the Ecuador box, with Shea finding Maurice Edu about nine yards out in front of goal, then darting toward the net. Edu, in an apparent attempt to play it back to Shea, instead rolled the ball harmlessly into Banguera’s arms. It counted as a shot, but it may as well have been a backpass. The U.S. created several other opportunities in front of Ecuador’s goal, but the final ball was always sub-standard. Ironic for a team coached by one of the greatest finishers of all time.

3.    Right-Side Wrongs

The normally steady Steve Cherundolo had an off night, struggling to contain the speedy Jefferson Montero and turning the ball over uncharacteristically. Three times he attempted the same move of faking a backpass to Tim Howard before turning toward the sideline and trying to advance upfield past pressure—and it failed all three times. Cherundolo’s halftime replacement, Jonathan Spector, was even worse. The Birmingham City man was torched soon after coming on, and later awkwardly headed a cross right to Montero at the edge of the box.

Highlights:

Klinsmann, postgame:

Marquez Underperforms (Again), Then Graciously Blames Teammates After 3-1 Loss to Real Salt Lake

We had our doubts about Rafa Marquez’s character ever since this:

But when he signed with the Red Bulls, we set them aside, preferring to focus on his possession skills, his passing out of the back, and his impressive pedigree that included 163 appearances for Barcelona. Surely these qualities would guarantee his success in MLS, and the Mexico captain would help boost the long-troubled New York franchise out of the doldrums.

It hasn’t worked out that way—to say the least—and last night we caught a glimpse of the cheap-shotting Rafa of 2002: After his second straight poor performance for the club, Marquez told the New York Daily News:

“Unfortunately there isn’t an equal level between my teammates and I.”

“I’m focusing on really performing at my highest level. That doesn’t mean that the whole backline can perform at that same level, so that’s a problem.”

How’s that for leadership?

Especially considering that Marquez played badly and was at least partly to blame (along with Jan Gunnar Solli) for RSL striker Fabian Espindola’s backbreaking third goal—in the 21st minute.

That’s right, in the biggest game of the season so far, New York gave up three goals in the first 21 minutes. As broadcaster Steve Cangelosi said, the roof just caved in.

They actually began fairly well, attacking agressively, but then a wrongly awarded corner kick ended up in the back of their net in the seventh minute after Teemu Tainio, the shortest player on the team, was left marking RSL’s six-foot striker Alvaro Saborio, and got beaten to a near-post header. It was the 271st set-piece goal the team has conceded this year.*

Four minutes later, Tim Ream made another one of his glaring mental errors. For all of his good qualities, Ream averages one of these about every other game—though he isn’t always punished for them. Last night he was, severely—Espindola took his weakly hit backpass and rounded New York keeper Frank Rost to put the visitors up 2-0 after 11 minutes. (He also knocked off the wheels from the Tim-Ream-is-the-US-centerback-of-the-future bandwagon.)

As Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said, “Our group was ready to play this game, and New York wasn’t.” Real Salt Lake has won five straight.

There was one bright spot for New York, and that was—no surprise here—Joel Lindpere. The Estonian midfielder, who would never throw his teammates under the bus to the press, hit the crossbar twice and scored on a spectacular bicycle kick.

On to the grisly highlights (they got the date wrong when they posted them, just FYI):

Despite the ugly loss, the Red Bulls are still in the thick of the playoff chase, thanks to surprising ties by DC United and Portland last night (more on those shortly).

New York plays Portland, which currently sits one point ahead of the Red Bulls in the 10th and final playoff spot, in a pivotal matchup on Saturday night.

*Not an official stat.

The March Friendlies: Player Ratings

While Backpost was away on vacation, the U.S. played two international friendlies, pulling out a flattering 1-1 draw with Argentina on Saturday night, then following that up with a more balanced performance but a 1-0 loss to Paraguay on Tuesday.

These were the last two games for the U.S. before the Gold Cup kicks off in June. The winner of the Gold Cup gets a berth in the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil, a dress rehearsal for the 2014 World Cup.

Here are the highlights from the Paraguay match, followed by the Backpost U.S. player ratings for both games:

Tim Howard, 9—A handful of stops—including a spectacular kick save on Leo Messi—kept the scorline respectable against Argentina. The former MetroStar is just a fantastic goalkeeper.

Marcus Hahnemann, 6—Nothing he could do on Paraguay’s goal, and was solid otherwise, including on a double save late in the first half.

David Yelldell, 5—Not a very hectic 45 minutes of action against Paraguay; claimed a few crosses. Was beaten—as any keeper would have been—by Marcelo Estigarribia’s cannon shot from 30 yards, which banged off the post.

Jonathan Spector, 4—Maybe the recent lack of playing time, and the shift to midfield, at West Ham have hurt him. Looked uncomfortable and was overwhelmed a couple of times before being taken off for Timothy Chandler at halftime vs Argentina. Came on for ten minutes at the end of the Paraguay game.

Timothy Chandler, 7—Along with Juan Agudelo, sparked the U.S. to life in the second half against Argentina, and showed attacking ability in both matches. Was also caught out of position a few times in both games.

Jay DeMerit, 5—His hard work and athleticism boosted the U.S.’s emergency defending in the first half against Argentina, but had a couple of scary giveaways in the back. Came off at halftime of Paraguay game with groin strain.

Tim Ream, 7.5—Excellent positioning and pinpoint passing out of the back. Also showed speed—which some critics say he lacks—chasing down a Paraguayan attacker in the corner. Lost his footing on the corner kick that led to the goal.

Carlos Bocanegra, 5—Rebounded from a very shaky first half against Argentina to help set up U.S. goal with header. Came in for DeMerit vs Paraguay and did no harm.

Jonathan Bornstein, 5—Completely mis-hit a cross against Paraguay after being sent in to the box by Landon Donovan. Beaten in the air early, then shored up his defensive game later.

Eric Lichaj, 6—Brings a lot of energy and some surprising confidence to the U.S. backline. Positioned well defensively and picked his spots to get forward in a second-half appearance vs Paraguay. His long throw nearly created the equalizer when it fell for Donovan at the back post.

Oguchi Onyewu, 3.5—Hard to believe he’s playing outside back for FC Twente. At centerback for the Yanks, seemed too lumbering and clumsy on the ball to deal with speedy wing play. Made a few bad giveaways. Gooch hasn’t been himself since injuring his patella tendon back in Oct 2009. DNP vs Paraguay.

Maurice Edu, 5—Was perhaps the most hampered by the U.S.’s 4-5-1 first-half formation vs Argentina, and the overcrowded central midfield it produced. Did much better when the Yanks went to a 4-4-2, and had a solid showing on both sides of the ball against Paraguay.

Michael Bradley, 5.5—Did some frantic defending against Argentina but was also overwhelmed and out of sync with his central midfield partners, until the U.S. changed it up. Did much better vs Paraguay and nearly hit a late equalizer on a 25-yard crack that produced a highlight-reel save from Paraguay keeper Ricardo Villar.

Jermaine Jones, 5.5—Played a half in each game; looked utterly lost vs Argentina (some day coach Bob Bradley will shelve the idea of playing Edu, M. Bradley, and Jones—nearly identical players—together in the center of the field. We just know it), but pretty sharp vs Paraguay. Nearly tied it at the end with point-blank tracer that Villar stymied.

Landon Donovan, 5—Others disagree, but we thought LD donned his invisibility cloak for much of these two games. Nearly (and should have) scored late against Paraguay but missed the target, and was just not enough The Man for the U.S. in both games.

Clint Dempsey, 7—Savviest U.S. player on the field vs Paraguay. Clever, subtle first touches got him out of midfield traffic, tested Paraguay’s Villar with a long looping shot, and headed Chandler’s cross just over the bar. Not as effective against Argentina but still a calming veteran presence.

Jozy Altidore, 5—Completely stranded up top in the first half against Argentina, and subsequently tried to do too much (like going 1 v 4 on the Albiceleste backline). Did better when Agudelo came on in the second half, but his game dropped vs Paraguay with poor touches and no coordination with teammates in attack.

Juan Agudelo, 8—He has scored two goals and drawn a penalty in four games for the U.S. (also appeared to have drawn one against Paraguay but it was not called). His exciting start papers over some of his errors, like not getting the ball off his feet quickly enough, but he shows a ton of confidence and some welcome ideas in the attacking third. Future’s so bright, he … should open a Sunglasses Hut franchise.

Sacha Kljestan, NR—Thirteen-minute cameo vs Paraguay; we thought young Mix Diskerud would get out there, but it was Sacha and his ’stache, which are settling in fairly well at Anderlecht.

MLS Weekend Preview: International Call-Ups Thin the Ranks

There is probably no team with more of a desire to see MLS conform to FIFA’s International Fixture dates than the Red Bulls.

When New York kicks off in Columbus tomorrow afternoon at 4:00 (MSG +/Direct Kick/MatchDay Live) they will be without five starters and a backup keeper due to international call-ups.

Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo will be with the U.S. as it faces Argentina, Rafa Marquez will play for Mexico, Dane Richards will suit up for Jamaica, Roy Miller got called in by Costa Rica, and second-string netminder Bouna Coundoul was tapped by Senegal.

Add the fact that Thierry Henry will miss the game with a hamstring strain (here we go again with that guy), and you are going to see a very … interesting lineup take the field for New York tomorrow afternoon.

We have no idea how they’re going construct a backline in the absence of three defensive regulars (Miller, Ream and Marquez), and with substitute Chris Albright rehabbing from surgery. Teemu Tainio will probably move from midfield to outside back, but coach Hans Backe will have to make multiple other adjustments as well, all over the field.

The other teams hit hardest by call-ups are Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake, both of which had three players tapped for international duty.

Kansas City visits Chicago on Saturday (4:00, TeleFutura) without Kei Kamara (Sierra Leone), Stephane Auvray (Guadeloupe), and Shavar Thomas (Jamaica).

Real Salt Lake hosts Los Angeles on Saturday night (9:00, DK/MDL) while missing Will Johnson (Canada), Arturo Alvarez (El Salvador*), and Alvaro Saborio (Costa Rica).

The Week 2 schedule kicks off tonight when Seattle welcomes Houston to Qwest Field (Fox Soccer Channel, 10:00 p.m. EST). Both clubs will be looking for their first win of the season after Seattle started with consecutive 1-0 losses to Los Angeles and New York, and Houston was surprised at home by the same scoreline when Danny Califf poked home a rebound for Philadelphia last Saturday.

Following tonight’s tussle in Seattle, there are eight games on Saturday. In addition to the matchups mentioned above we have (home teams listed first):

Toronto FC vs Portland, 2:00 p.m., TSN (Canada), MDL

The Reds face an expansion team for the second straight week to start the season, and, as their 4-2 loss to Vancouver showed last week, that’s probably for the better. Toronto is still working out the kinks as they try to implement new coach Aron Winter‘s system. Portland began its MLS existence with a 3-1 defeat to defending champion Colorado last week, and should welcome the chance to measure themselves against the struggling Reds.

Philadelphia vs Vancouver, 4:00 p.m., MDL/DK

Both teams started the season with a bang last week, the Union upsetting Houston on the road and Whitecaps FC overwhelming Toronto at home. The Sons of Ben will be out in force for the home opener at PPL Park. Philly will want to keep tabs on Vancouver playmaker Davide Chiumiento, whose midfield brilliance was somewhat overshadowed by new DP Eric Hassli‘s two goals last week.

New England vs DC United, 4:30 p.m., MDL/DK

Charlie Davies brings his magic to the Big Razor to face a New England team that narrowly escaped rainy Los Angeles with a 1-1 draw last week—and will play without Kenny Mansally and Sainey Nyassi, both of whom were called to the Gambian national team, this week. CD9 scored two to lead the Black-and-Red to a 3-1 win over Columbus last Saturday.

FC Dallas vs San Jose, 9:00 p.m., MDL/DK

The Hoops will be without centerback Brek Shea, who was red-carded in last week’s 1-1 tie with Chicago. San Jose hopes to make up for last week’s tough home loss to Real Salt Lake, a game in which they created but failed to convert several good chances.

Chivas USA vs Colorado, 10:30 p.m., MDL/DK

It doesn’t get any easier for Robin Fraser‘s rebuilt squad: they welcome the defending champs one week after a 3-2 home loss to high-flying Sporting Kansas City. The Rapids will be without international call-ups Sanna Nyassi (Gambia) and Omar Cummings (Jamaica), but they’ll still present a stiff challenge for the Goats.

*Alvarez was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and represented the U.S. at the U-17, U-20 and U-23 levels, but chose to play for his parents’ native El Salvador at the senior level.

Red Bulls Wrap Up Preseason with Chippy, Less-than-Impressive Draw Against Atlas

We are still awaiting the day when Marquez applies himself in a Red Bull game.

Preseason games can be notoriously misleading, and an isolated preseason game is a limited sample size, for sure, but, man, based on last night’s performance in Glendale, Arizona, the 2011 Red Bulls look a lot like the 2010 Red Bulls—only not as good.

They were missing two projected starters in Juan Agudelo (groin) and Jan Gunnar Solli (undisclosed “minor” injury), but they looked far more than two pieces away from being a contending team. There was no rhythm whatsoever to their play, they struggled to connect passes, and they were fortunate to escape with a 1-1 tie against Atlas, which is currently 4-4-1 after nine games in the Mexican Primera Division.

In short, they looked like what they were last season—a work in progress, a team yet to cohere.

A positive echo of last season was the one player who made something happen—Joel Lindpere, who drew an 88th-minute penalty that enabled New York to tie it up. Sure, he embellished it a little, but he got himself in a good attacking position, made a move, felt contact and went down. Boom: penalty; tie game.

But there was very little else to praise. Thierry Henry vacillated between frustration with his teammates for their inability to read his intentions (we’re looking at you, Dane Richards) and wild-eyed outrage at some rash tackles from the opposition (late in the game, he retaliated for one in a fashion that would have earned him a straight red in 99.9% of the leagues around the world. He got a yellow.).

He had isolated moments of gliding-on-air effectiveness, but overall, Henry did not look like a player ready to dominate MLS competition. Which, you know, was sort of the idea when RBNY brought him over last season.

Rafael Marquez was even worse. He was beaten badly on a ball over the top in the first half, and if not for some excellent cover from American Carlos Mendes, New York would have surrendered a goal on the play. Later, Marquez sent an awkward backpass to Bouna Coundoul that forced the keeper into an even more awkward emergency clearance.

The Mexican international also seemed to mentally float in and out of the game—a trait we saw in his RBNY appearances last season.

Partnering Henry up top was the 6-4 Ghanian Salou Ibrahim—a player that coach Backe spent the preseason going out of his way to say is not in his plans. Now here’s a start, Salou—go get ’em. He was predictably feckless and missed a clear chance in the first half, sending a lob over the bar with the keeper beaten.

New signing Teemu Tainio did not look like the answer in the middle of the park, and slightly ahead of him in midfield, Mehdi Ballouchy made us think Backe and Co. fell in love with the Morrocan prematurely last summer, and made a rash decision when they acquired him from Colorado (which went on to win the league without him, btw).

Ballouchy brings sporadic flashes of skill to the table—and nothing else.

Speaking of one-dimensionality, Dane Richards didn’t even have his primary (solitary?) asset—speed—going last night. Atlas defenders seemed prepared for that element and did an effective job neutralizing the Jamaican winger—when he wasn’t neutralizing himself with unforced errors and passes to no one.

On the positive side, Tim Ream was his usual composed and consistent self at centerback (despite scoring an own goal when a driven cross wrong-footed him), and Mendes, as we suggested earlier, looked pretty good—especially so since he had played 90 minutes against Dallas the day before.

Beyond that, though, if Red Bulls fans want to maintain their optimism for the 2011 season, they’ll have to set this one aside and fuhgettaboudid, as they say in New York.

Which U.S. Newbies Should Go to Cairo on Feb. 9?

We’ve said it before, but after this past Saturday’s friendly against Chile, it bears repeating: no two observers of a U.S. national team game will come away with the same impression.

Take a look at the player ratings here, here, here, and here to get an idea of what we mean.

One observer called central midfielder Dax McCarty “Xavi light” (a huge reach), while another said he was industrious but inconsistent (closer to reality). There were also notably mixed reviews for Zach Loyd, Brek Shea, Mikkel Diskerud and Sean Franklin.

The only players who drew a consensus in the postgame breakdowns were Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury, and Tim Ream—and on the negative side, Marvell Wynne.

Just to add to the Tower of Babel of analysis, we happen to disagree on those last two.

Ream had a good game, and he started the play that led to the U.S. equalizer, but, as often happens when he plays with New York (we watched every game last season), he seemingly made one dangerous giveaway for every two pinpoint passes out of the back.

He made two howlers on Saturday, and on the second one, he was bailed out by … everyone’s whipping boy, Marvell Wynne.

Wynne was unanimously dismissed following his debut at center-back (he’d previously played out wide for the U.S.), but we would still leave the door open for this player if we were in charge. He wasn’t as lost versus Chile as critics claimed, and his athleticism is completely off the charts. If he improves his positioning and reading of the game, he can contribute for the U.S.

In any event, only a few of the players from the Chile match (if any) will be a part of the U.S. squad when it faces reigning African champions Egypt on Feb 9 in Cairo.

That’s a FIFA international fixture date, so coach Bob Bradley will have access to all of his foreign-based first-team players. (Sidenote: how will in-form midfielder Stuart Holden fit into that one? Not to mention recent Blackburn Man-of-the-Match Jermaine Jones.)

Which youngsters will he choose to integrate into his first-choice squad? If he takes any at all, this is how we see it breaking down:

Likely:

Juan Agudelo, Tim Ream

The U.S. coach is known for bringing along youngsters slowly, but considering the U.S.’s thinness at forward, he might include the 18-year-old Agudelo and see how he mixes with the first-choice veterans.

Ream is older (23) and clearly has the potential to succeed the likes of Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit in the center of defense. It’s doubtful that any of those three will be with the U.S. come Brazil 2014.

Possible:

Teal Bunbury

Along with Agudelo (and a handful of designated players), Bunbury will be one of the most interesting players to watch in MLS this season. He came on very strong at the end of last year, and carried the momentum into an offseason of a lifetime (goalfest in Spain with the Generation adidas team, national-team debut, first national-team goal, and Pablo Ramirez–aided YouTube fame).

Mikkel Diskerud

He wasn’t great against Chile, but may have been ill-suited to his first-half role. When Agudelo and Bunbury came in to give the U.S. two strikers, Mix livened up and looked more effective. The U.S. needs players with his Feilhaber-esque skill and creativity.

Sleeper:

Zach Loyd

He doesn’t even start for FC Dallas (though that could change this year), so it may be a reach to tab him for a full international against the African champions. But Loyd is competing for the left-back position, where the U.S. hasn’t had a completely reliable option for years. He was overexcited at times versus Chile, but he’s highly athletic and made some impressive plays on Saturday. Don’t count him out.