Tim Ream settles in at Bolton

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And it's only April.

Bolton is one point clear of the drop zone with eight games to play, and Ream is right in the middle of the Darwinian struggle. "It's definitely an interesting dynamic," he told me this week, "much different from playing in New York and not having to worry about relegation. But as a player I enjoy the extra pressure. You want to perform under the best and worst conditions, and fighting relegation is something you just have to do. So far, so good. But with eight games to go, it's really coming down to the wire."

So far, so good is an apt way to describe Ream's adjustment to the Premier League. The Saint Louis U. product says he didn't expect to become a fulltime player so soon after his arrival, but Ream hasn't looked out of place as a center back, and he has even pulled spot duty as a defensive midfielder under manager Owen Coyle.

Though Ream hasn't played as a midfielder for the U.S. or New York, his fitness, defensive skills and ability on the ball led to Coyle's decision. "I think the manager sees my test results from when I first came in, and I'm able to run and my fitness is really high," Ream says. "So he thought I'd do well and be able to play there on a need-be basis." That said, Ream says his regular position will remain on the back line.

The magnitude of Ream's opportunity may well be determined by the outcome of the relegation fight. On the high end of the scale, he could follow the path of the man he replaced, ex-Bolton defender Gary Cahill, who was sold for $11 million to Chelsea in January. On the low end, Ream could find himself toiling in the second tier of English soccer next season.

Either way, he appears to have earned the trust of Coyle, who has won a reputation for giving U.S. players a chance (see Stuart Holden). "He's a players coach," Ream says of Coyle. "He's a good motivator, even when guys are maybe feeling a little down because of a result. And I think he sees that Americans can succeed if put in the right situation."

As busy as Ream has been this year, most of his changes have been the result of typical events in the career of a soccer player. Yet nothing prepared him for the horrific scene last month when Bolton teammate Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the field and nearly died of a cardiac arrest during an FA Cup game against Tottenham. Muamba survived and is recovering in a hospital, but Ream won't ever forget the feeling of helplessness watching it unfold from the Bolton bench that day.

"It was shocking, surreal," Ream says. "For two or three days after that you felt like you were in a trance almost. It was a freak thing that you don't want to see happen to anybody, especially to a guy who's loved by everyone. It really makes you appreciate what you have and what you've been given."

And Ream is quick to say that after just two seasons as a pro in New York he has been given a great opportunity in England. A cool character by nature, he admits he was "just a wreck" on the day he sat in a cafe waiting for the verdict on his work permit appeal, "with my stomach inside-out and my hands and legs shaking." Once the good news arrived, he issued a fist pump and a "hell yes" -- what qualifies as an emotional response for the Midwesterner.

Now Ream's goals are to stay up with Bolton, continue getting playing time and earn back his spot with the U.S. national team, which he lost last year after some conspicuous miscues against Panama and Ecuador. "You always want to be in the picture and being called in," he says, "but at the same time you don't get there without working hard and playing for your club. I'd like to think I've played my way back in, but you don't really know."

Just in case he gets called in to the U.S. camp for upcoming friendlies and World Cup qualifiers, Ream has postponed his long-awaited honeymoon to Bora Bora with his wife, Kristen, until late June. Staying three more days in the South Pacific than they had originally scheduled in January is one of the few minor upgrades the Reams have indulged in despite Tim's sizable salary increase from the $62,625 he made in MLS last year. "We haven't gone crazy with the spending. That's not who we are," explains Ream, who says the healthier paycheck has allowed them to have two cars instead of one and to rent a house instead of the small apartment they had in New Jersey.

The way his year has been going, Ream will have earned a few days in an overwater bungalow at the end of June.


? Kansas City-Los Angeles is must-see TV. How often do we get a genuinely buzz-worthy MLS game this early in the season? That's what's ahead on Saturday when Kansas City hosts Los Angeles (4 p.m. ET, ESPN) at a sold-out Livestrong Sporting Park. KC is the only perfect team in MLS (4-0), but it still needs a marquee victory. Meanwhile, the defending-champ Galaxy is reeling after a 1-2 MLS start, a Champions League flop and questions about David Beckham, who was removed at halftime of last week's 3-1 loss to New England. The only big question is whether we'll see Landon Donovan, who was out injured last week.

? Thumbs up for the MLS Disciplinary Committee. Give the committee some credit: MLS said it would take a tougher stance using retro-punishments for reckless play, and that's exactly what has happened. The league issued three more midweek suspensions to Vancouver's Atiba Harris, D.C.'s Brandon McDonald and Dallas's Jair Benítez. There's going to be plenty of debate over who does and who doesn't draw their attention (no Osvaldo Alonso this week?), but I happen to like the new get-tough policy, which should have a positive impact on making MLS a league where skill matters more than physical play.

? Hérculez Gómez just keeps on going. The U.S. sniper has now scored in eight straight games for Santos Laguna, the first-place team in Mexico, with 11 goals over that span. The latest victim was Toronto, which gave up two Gómez goals as TFC was eliminated in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals. It will be stunning if Gómez isn't called in for the U.S. camp starting next month, but my question is whether an MLS team in need of scoring might try to acquire him as a DP in July.

He wouldn't come cheaply: Gómez has a two-and-a-half-year deal, and a source tells me Santos would be unlikely to accept a transfer fee less than the $1.8 million it paid for him before this season. (Gómez's Santos salary is estimated to be in the high six-figures, too.) But Gómez would potentially be interested in an MLS return, and a DP added in midseason only counts for $175,000 on a team's salary budget. Teams that could use him: Columbus, Houston, Chicago, Philly, Montreal, Seattle, Dallas and Chivas.

Keep in mind, too, that Kansas City still has the right of first refusal on Gómez, who turned down a contract offer from KC before trying his fortunes in Mexico. Any MLS team that would want to sign Gómez would have to work out a deal with Kansas City to get his rights.