The sun blazed down as the heavy, hot air made breathing - much less running around the field in San Pedro Sula, Costa Rica - brutal for Tim Chandler in his last experience with the U.S. national team.
Born and raised in Germany, Chandler couldn't have had much experience playing in the sultry conditions he found as the U.S. national team lost to Honduras in a 2013 World Cup qualifier. In fact, he arrived in the Central American city from Germany, and needless to say, it was a tad bit colder in Nuremberg that February.
Chandler struggled, and instead of looking like the fast and fearless fullback U.S. fans had been praying would be the future of the right back position, he looked slow, sluggish and overwhelmed. That match, which cap-tied him to the United States, also left a bitter taste in the mouths of those watching that day, even though most of his U.S. teammates had just as tough a time.
Tim Ream's last experience in a U.S. national team uniform came in friendlier confines, but was no less painful, and was even longer ago. A very encouraging roookie year for the New York Red Bulls in 2010 catapulted him onto the national team radar, and by summer of 2011 he was starting in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Ream's form let him down though, and terrible defensive mistakes showed him to be not ready for for the international level. It mattered little that he was the best passing central defender in the pool. If he couldn't be trusted to defend, he was going to have a tough time ever playing a role.
Jurgen Klinsmann took over as U.S. head coach in the summer of 2011 and gave Ream a look. His chance came as a sub in a friendly against Ecuador. Playing in Red Bull Arena, the same stadium where his pro career took off, Ream managed to get beaten for the winning goal. The moment served as rock bottom for Ream, at least on the international front, even though Klinsmann tried to offer support after that match.
“Tim needs these minutes on this level in order to learn,” Klinsmann said at the time. "He is one of the very promising center-backs in this country. That’s why he is on this squad. He deserves to be on this squad and he has an extreme will to learn. He’s a constant asker who wants to know how to get to the next level."
Two and a half years later, Ream hasn't played for the U.S. national team since.
So why are we talking about a pair of defenders who haven't worn U.S. uniforms for a combined 45 months? They just might be getting their chances to come in from cold and make a run at the 2014 World Cup. Jurgen Klinsmann is considering which players to bring into the pre-World Cup training camp to battle for World Cup roster spots and both Chandler and Ream have very realistic chances of being invited to that camp.
Ream's candidacy will surprise some who have lost track of him since Bolton was relegated to the English League Championship, a league that is a considerably higher level than a significant amount of American fans realize. It took Ream some time to settle in at Bolton, but he really put things together this season. He has played everywhere along the backline, and even in midfield, but has settled in as a consistent central defender and left back for the Trotters, and on Tuesday Ream was voted the team's Player of the Year by the club's supporter's association.
Klinsmann took notice of Ream's progress, and called Ream in for the March friendly against Ukraine, but Ream passed on the call-up to stay home after the birth of his first child. The initial invitation was proof enough though that Klinsmann was watching him again, which shouldn't be a complete surprise given that he mentioned Ream's name in the past when talking about players on the national team radar who could eventually make their return.
For Chandler, a call-up might seem even more surprising, given the fact he only just returned from missing more than two months with a torn meniscus, and because he hasn't been a part of the national team setup since that forgettable day in Honduras.
What Chandler's recent injury layoff makes it easy to forget is that he was in outstanding form before the injury. He was playing extremely well for Nuremberg and looked like a very viable candidate to return to the U.S. setup and challenge for the wide-open right back position. Unfortunately for him, the injury hit, and he once again fell off most observers' radar.
Klinsmann wasn't one of those observers, and when he took to Twitter on Saturday to point out that Chandler's return to action for Nuremberg was "Good news" it was clear the U.S. coach still sees Chandler as an option.
And why shouldn't he? When healthy and on form, Chandler is the most well-rounded right back option in the pool. While Geoff Cameron has really solidified his game as the starting right back at Stoke City, he doesn't offer Chandler's attacking threat. And other than Cameron, none of the other right back options can really match up to Chandler, who it is easy to forget was impressive for the U.S. at right back and left back in the early months of Klinsmann's tenure as U.S. coach.
There is some belief that Chandler's absence from the national team setup for more than a year somehow makes him a less viable option for the World Cup. That isn't reality. What will ultimately matter is if Chandler can stay healthy, regain match fitness and sharpness in the final weeks of the Bundesliga season, and then impress Klinsmann enough during the pre-World Cup training camp to give him a World Cup roster spot ahead of other fullback options such as Michael Parkhurst and Brad Evans. If he can regain the form he showed earlier in the Bundesliga season, he can win that competition.
Ream and Chandler stand very good chances of being invited to that all-important camp, and given how wide-open the competition is all across the U.S. defense for roster places, and even starting roles, it's unreasonable to think that they can't make it to the World Cup because of their absences.
Klinsmann will select the 23-man squad that gives the U.S. the best chance to win, and after years away from the national team, having done well to regroup on the club level, both Chandler and Ream should have chances to make their cases for not only being back in the national team fold, but also on that plane to Brazil.
- Sports & Recreation
- Tim Chandler
- Jurgen Klinsmann
- Tim Ream