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Could Tim Ream be the USMNT’s unlikely World Cup hero?

Tim Ream speaks with Joe Prince-Wright as he prepared to depart Craven Cottage for Qatar to join up with the United States squad for the 2022 World Cup.

LONDON -- Fresh off putting in another superb display for Fulham, veteran Tim Ream beamed as he stood outside Craven Cottage with the USMNT center back off to the World Cup.

Against the odds, he’s going to the biggest tournament on the planet to represent the USA.

[ MORE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch live, scores, hub ]

Ream, 35, was a surprise inclusion in Gregg Berhalter’s World Cup roster given he hadn’t been called up for over a year and the USMNT head coach seemed to prefer a different type of central defender.

But he’s been so good in the Premier League for Fulham this season he just couldn’t be ignored and with the USMNT having big problems at center back (and center forward) heading into this World Cup, could Ream become an unlikely hero for the U.S. in Qatar?

In attack you know the likes of Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson and Gio Reyna are going to deliver but defensively the USMNT has big problems, especially with Miles Robinson and Chris Richards missing out through injury.

Ream is in the form of his life, has incredible experience and will be a calming influence on this young U.S. side. For most USMNT fans, he has to start at the World Cup.

Modest as always, ProSoccerTalk caught up with a delighted Tim Ream just before a taxi whisked him and Fulham teammate Antonee Robinson off to the airport and then on to Qatar.

Why Tim Ream should start for the USA

What are his expectations for the World Cup?

“I’d love to obviously get on the pitch,” Tim Ream said. “Expectations as a team, I think you go into any tournament wanting to win. That’s what we want to do and any way I can contribute and help the team win I’m looking forward to it.”

Ream is playing down the role he could play in Qatar and with Walker Zimmerman’s spot as the right-sided center back locked in, the spot next to him is up for grabs. Ream should have that starting spot at left center back ahead of Aaron Long and Cameron Carter-Vickers.

“Have you watched any Fulham games lately? Then you know why we want him in,” USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter said when asked about Ream’s inclusion. “He’s a top performer for his team. It is really hard to ignore stuff like that... To me all the pieces are aligned to bring him back into the squad and to me there is a difference between qualifying in CONCACAF and playing in the World Cup. Tim, based on the level he’s playing at, he’s ready to play in a World Cup. For sure.”

As the numbers below show from Fulham’s clash with Manchester United (Ream also almost scored a header but David de Gea denied him), he’s having a superb season for Fulham, has been aggressive with his defending and one thing he has always been good at is playing out of the back. That is key for the way Gregg Berhalter wants to play and he doesn’t want his center backs to push high up the pitch and his full backs can cover for any pace that Zimmerman and Ream lack.

Ream has shown his calmness on the ball during his entire career but especially this season as he turned Anthony Martial inside out in his own box and started an attack with a purposeful pass forward against United on Sunday.

That is exactly the kind of the thing this possession-based USMNT side needs.

Ream vs Manchester United NBCSPORTS

What is behind his fine form this season?

Ream has guided Fulham to ninth in the table (starting all 15 games and playing all but two minutes of the season so far) and has captained them for most of their brilliant return to the Premier League.

Fulham’s fans adore him and chant ‘Reammmmmmm’ every time he heads clear, makes a wonderful pass or turns a striker inside out with his trademark composure.

What has been going so right for Ream this season?

“I think it’s a lot of things. First of all, finally just playing with a freedom,” Ream explained. “Not worrying about what could happen, what will happen. Just going out there and enjoying the game, enjoying being here and just being on the pitch and playing with a freedom and an enjoyment.”

The St. Louis native is certainly playing with freedom on the ball, aggression to win it back and has looked in total control. His connection with USMNT left back Robinson on the left side of Fulham’s defense has also been key to their excellent start and that partnership should be reunited for the Stars and Stripes in Qatar.

Arsenal FC v Fulham FC - Premier League

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: Gabriel Jesus of Arsenal and Tim Ream of Fulham FC during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Fulham FC at Emirates Stadium on August 27, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)

Visionhaus/Getty Images

Leadership role boosts his case further

This is the second-youngest team the USMNT has ever taken to the World Cup and Tim Ream is the oldest player on the roster at the age of 35.

He laughed when reminded of that fact but also said he’s willing to do whatever it takes on and off the pitch from his decade-long experience in England playing against many of the players the USMNT will face in group stage games against Wales and England.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve played in some big games, going there I will take on a leadership role if that is what’s asked,” Ream said. “You just help guys out in any way you can. Whether that is physically, video sessions, just leading the guys and being in their ear if I need to be in their ear and helping to motivate guys to make sure we are on the right track.”

SOCCER: JUN 06 Concacaf Nations League Final - Mexico v United States

DENVER, CO - JUNE 06: United States midfielder Weston McKennie (8), defender Tim Ream (13), forward Gio Reyna (7) and forward Josh Sargent (9) look on in action during the CONCACAF Nations League finals between Mexico and the United States on June 06, 2021, at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver, CO. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

An inspirational story for every American soccer player

From playing in college at Saint Louis to being drafted in MLS with the New York Red Bulls, then getting the big move to Bolton only for them to be relegated and then heading to Fulham and being a mainstay as they bounced up and down to the Premier League over the last seven years, Ream has worked so hard to get this opportunity to go to the World Cup.

“It is a dream come true, something as boys we dream of. So to make it on the last try, the last hurdle, I am excited,” Tim Ream smiled.

Asked if his story was an inspiration to every American soccer player out there, Ream reflected on the winding road to get to the promised land.

“It is one of those where you just keep plugging away,” Ream smiled. “Just keep going. You never know, twists and turns, up and downs, life and football is a rollercoaster. But if you just keep going there’s nobody to stop you but yourself.”

Fulham FC v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 15: Tim Ream of Fulham looks on during the Premier League match between Fulham FC and AFC Bournemouth at Craven Cottage on October 15, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Getty Images

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