UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – It isn’t often a head coach admits that he wishes he had taken things slower with a player, had spent time grooming and developing him more. Let alone when that player was a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate and one of the keys to a conference championship. Factor in that that said player now seems entrenched in the national team picture, and the statement seems a true rarity.
But Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe wishes he could have taken things slower with Tim Ream, who is currently in Cary, N.C., training with the United States national team ahead of Saturday’s friendly against Argentina, then next Wednesday's match against Paraguay.
“We had to play him, given the number of center backs we had last year,” Backe told MLSsoccer.com. “I just wish that we could have taken things slower with Tim, eased him in there. But we didn’t have that opportunity.”
All Ream did in his rookie season was play all 32 matches for the Red Bulls, taking in every minute of league play on the pitch.
Leading the league in minutes as a rookie was just the first step. Ream played for the national team in friendly matches in November and January, rocketing up the depth chart for Bob Bradley’s US team to the point that he was one of just four MLS players called into the latest squad.
Backe hopes to watch the US vs. Argentina match – which will be played in East Rutherford, N.J. – after the Red Bulls get done playing the Columbus Crew earlier that afternoon. Ream will likely feature for the Stars and Stripes, and could be joined by Red Bulls teammate Juan Agudelo, who also played in those November and January friendlies.
“Of course there is pride, you want to see players develop into the national team. It is good for them, good for the national team and good for Red Bull,” Backe said.
“But I really wish I had them here on Saturday.”
The Red Bulls on Wednesday signed second-round draft pick Tyler Lassiter, a central defender that veteran Carlos Mendes compares favorably to Ream. Backe has hailed the rookie’s development, but the coach won’t rush to put Lassiter in the starting XI.
“It’s a different situation this year than last year with the number of center backs we have,” Backe said. “Tyler is a good player who is very mature. With Tim, we threw him in there because we had to. We don’t have to do that this year.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer