IF you’d have told Tim Ream a few years ago that he would be swapping the bustling Big Apple for the breezy Bolton hills – he’d have thought you were mad.
But now completely settled into Lancashire life and English football, there is no place the American would rather call home.
Last season was a turning point for the laid-back defender, who by his own honest admission had not adjusted well since his move from MLS side New York Red Bulls in January 2012.
After forcing his way into Dougie Freedman’s side he showed remarkable versatility in playing three different positions, and consequently swept the board at the end-of-year awards.
That was enough to earn him a new three-year deal and put him on the very cusp of Jurgen Klinsmann’s World Cup squad. And to top off a head-spinning 12 months, Ream’s wife Kirsten also gave birth to their first son.
Ream’s transition into an honorary Boltonian complete, he can now be spotted stocking up on baby wipes and nappies when not on duty at the Macron Stadium.
“Yes, I’ve got the Tesco Clubcard working nicely for me, everyday,” he said. “We’re right in the thick of it here in Bolton but we like it that way. There’s everything we need, why go anywhere else?
“If you are not settled off the field – or as settled as you can be with a five-month-old – then it can be tough on the field.
“But we are happy here, otherwise there would have been no point signing a new deal with Bolton. I want to stay here for the next three years and hopefully longer.”
Last summer, it was hard to see exactly where Ream would fit into Freedman’s defensive equation.
It had been a nightmarish first year-and-a-half for the St Louis native.
Relegation just four months after his arrival as Gary Cahill’s replacement was compounded by the fact his late goal-bound header in the decisive game at Stoke City – which would have saved Wanderers’ skins – was blocked on the line by Potters keeper Thomas Sorensen.
That bad luck seemed to spill into the following campaign where Ream did not look comfortable in the hustle and bustle of Championship football.
“I’ll be the first to admit that I struggled to play in the Championship at first,” he told The Bolton News. “It’s a different animal to the Premiership, which in turn is completely different to playing in MLS.
“It’s all about adjusting and how quickly you can do it and obviously I didn’t do it fast enough. But I got there eventually. The first season was definitely a struggle and I can say that with a smile now sitting here, but it’s funny how quickly things can change.
“You only have to look at a handful of guys in this team that have gone through the exact same thing.
“Millsy (Matt Mills) was right behind me on our way out, Lonners (Andy Lonergan) in mid-season, but then at the drop of a hat you can be called upon.
“Now we’re in the thick of it, and we’d like to believe we’re a major part of the plans.”
Expectation levels have been tempered among the supporters since Wanderers first dropped into the Championship, but Ream feels that the squad is stronger than it was 12 months ago.
A promotion push this season would be somewhat of a surprise to the bookmakers, who have categorised the Whites among the mid-table also-rans in their early odds.
But there is a sense from within the camp that the team are better mentally equipped this time around for a 46-game campaign, and Ream is ruling nothing out.
“Sky’s the limit, really,” he said. “I think we’ve already done better than last pre-season.
“From talking to the guys we feel physically and mentally ahead of where we were last year.
“We’re fitter and stronger. We have a game-plan and a few different ideas that we worked on last year that we’re tweaking a little bit at the moment.
“We’re confident and wins – even in pre-season – help. That’s something we didn’t get last season and maybe that didn’t help us in the end.
“We know the start of last season wasn’t good enough but I don’t think it’s healthy to dwell. We’ve just got to put our heads down and get to it.”