TAMPA, Fla. — Tim Weah is just 18. He’s the son of a legendary figure—George Weah, former world player of the year, current president of Liberia—and he’s training every day with Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and Edinson Cavani at Paris Saint-Germain. He scored a goal in PSG’s first league game of the season and ended up on the cover of L’Equipe the next day.
But that doesn’t mean everything has been easy lately for Weah. He hasn’t played in a PSG first-team game since August 18. Some observers have questioned his decision not to go out on loan from the start of the season. And then all Weah did on Thursday night against Colombia was play the biggest role in producing the best attacking highlight of 2018 for the U.S. men’s national team.
The U.S. lost the international friendly handily, 4-2 (after leading 2-1 in the second half), with the reasons Colombia stormed back—world-class talent, U.S. naivete, etc.—well-chronicled. But, as Weah continues to show, he is one of a few emerging young players—including Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Josh Sargent—who represent the potential of what this USMNT can become.
On Thursday night, with the game tied at 1-1, Weah provided a glimpse. After Julian Green had won the ball on a well-timed tackle, he fed it to Weah on the left side. Working at speed, Weah dribbled into the maw of three Colombian defenders and delivered an audacious pass into the tiny bit of space between the advancing Bobby Wood and his two defenders. Wood finished with authority for a temporary 2-1 lead. And while that lead wouldn’t last, the U.S.’s two-goal outburst in three minutes at least showed that it can create some goals after a run of games in which that didn’t happen.
“Julian played me the ball, and as I’m dribbling I see [Davinson] Sánchez, who’s a defender I watch all the time at Tottenham,” Weah said. “And I see him coming. I see the right back coming, and I know there’s going to be players coming. I think there were three players around me. And I just looked up and see Bobby and kind of slip it through Sánchez’s legs, and Bobby was there to finish it off.
“It’s just one of those things I have in my pocket that I don’t usually use a lot, because I can’t tell you how many times I get assists in a season,” he continued. “I’m usually scoring the goals. But it’s always good to show a different part of your football. And I think getting that assist showed people I can also give a good pass.”
Just to conceive of trying that pass, much less pulling it off, revealed that Weah is a player who brings fearless qualities that the U.S. can use. He is still raw in many ways, but man, that was a jolt. And it’s the kind of audacity that he’s exposed to in practice every day at PSG.
“It’s crazy,” Weah said. “At training I see Neymar do crazy stuff. Mbappé, he’s closer [at 19] to my age, so I relate more with him, and when I see him doing the stuff he does in training, it kind of pushes me to go out there and try hard and also be myself and show what I can do with the ball at my feet. You know, I’m getting there. I’m a late bloomer. It’s taking time. But I try to just take it day by day. I train hard. Even after training, I stay two hours behind and try to work on my passes and finishing. It’s getting there. And I can’t wait until I’m at my full potential and can show the world what I can do.”
Here’s an interesting thing about Weah. Because he’s just 18, U.S. Soccer didn’t make him available for one-on-one interviews this week ahead of the game. That’s fine. But when Weah does talk, as he did after Thursday’s game, he fills your notebook with good stuff. Typically I will go through a postgame interview and highlight in bold on my laptop the few quotes from an interview that will be ones I want to use in a story. But with Weah, I highlighted everything he said in a six-minute mixed-zone interview. He’s got personality. In the lobby at the team hotel on Wednesday, he came up and introduced himself–not the other way around.
“I’m still happy that I didn’t go on loan,” he said. “Because everybody is telling me 'You should have gone on loan.' I’m not playing now [at PSG], but I’m still so happy going to training and experiencing everything they’re doing and watching them and taking up after them and trying to do the stuff they do. It’s huge in building a career and building on your game as a young guy.”
In terms of the decision to stay at PSG and not go on loan, “it was my choice and a family decision,” Weah explained. “Because we felt that going on loan to a team that potentially really didn’t want me yet and going to a team where I’d have to make a complete impact immediately wasn’t the time for that. We wanted to wait until the first part of the season was over so I can at least be comfortable with playing first-team football and training as well, just getting better.
“In January, I’ll be ready to go on loan and take my talents to another team and see what I can do for the next half of the season.”
Also, if you assume that Weah is always getting a ton of soccer advice from his father, well, think again.
“My dad, he doesn’t say much,” Weah said. “He just tells me to play my game. It’s my mom [Clar] who gets on me every time if I’m not scoring or assisting. That’s what people are looking for. She tries to nail in my head: If you don’t score, make sure you assist. And that’s what I’m trying to do now. I’m having a hard time at the moment with PSG because I’m not getting game time. It was so weird being on the field. I haven’t played in months. Being able to do what I did [against Colombia], it just feels good. It feels like I can still go out there with the first team and do some stuff.”
Weah said he still gets nervous on the field playing against opponents that he marvels at on the television. But the highlight he helped create on television Thursday night is the kind that U.S. fans will see and want to see more of Weah in the future.
When asked what it was like to be on the cover of L’Equipe, the French daily sports bible, earlier this year, Weah gave an answer that tells you a lot about his ambitions.
“It was a great feeling,” he said. “But I know one game is one game, you know. There’s going to be other games I have to perform. I felt awesome getting my first goal and being on the cover the next day, but I wasn’t completely satisfied, because I know I have to do it week in and week out if I want to be the best and if I want to explode. Just being on the cover isn’t good enough for me. I want to be a household name. I want to be on everyone’s TV. I want to be on all the magazine covers.
“That’s what I’m working toward.”