Sunday, January 29 2023

DOHA, Qatar — Tim Weah can appreciate, better than most, how rare and special it is to play in a World Cup.

Weah’s father, George, is considered one of the greatest soccer players ever, winner of both the FIFA Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or in 1995. He won league titles in Italy and France, was the top scorer in the Champions League during the 1994-95 season and helped Chelsea win the FA Cup in 2000.

Yet the elder Weah never played in a World Cup, Liberia coming up a point short of qualifying for the 2002 tournament.

“My Dad wanted to do it with his country, but he didn’t have the opportunity to do it. Now he’s kind of living through me,” Tim Weah said Tuesday. “I think it’s a blessing. It’s just amazing to be able to represent my family on this stage.”

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Having such an accomplished parent – George Weah went into politics after his playing career ended and is now president of Liberia – can be a burden for a young person. Especially when they’re following a similar career path.

The comparisons and expectations from outsiders can be crushing. The self-doubt can be relentless. The ever-present shadow can breed resentment.

Tim Weah doesn’t seem bothered by any of it, however.

Tim Weah celebrates after scoring a goal against Jamaica.Tim Weah celebrates after scoring a goal against Jamaica.
Tim Weah celebrates after scoring a goal against Jamaica.

“I don’t really talk to Tim about his Dad like that. We have to remember that Tim is his own player. He’s doing his own thing as well. That’s mostly what I try to focus on with Tim,” said U.S. teammate Yunus Musah, who grew up hearing about George Weah from his own father.

Weah said his father never pushed him to play; it was his mother, Clar, who taught him the game and was his first coach. He gamely answers questions about his father because he understands the fascination.

But he long ago figured out how to be his own person and have his own career. It starts with his jersey.

Weah would have been eligible to play for Liberia or Jamaica, where his mother originally is from, as well as France. Being born and raised in New York, however, the idea of playing for another country never crossed his mind.

“I knew nothing else but the States when I was younger, so the choice was very simple for me. I always knew I was going to play for the U.S.,” he said earlier this year.

Weah was 12 when he got his first call-up with a U.S. youth team, and eventually played in both the Under-17 and U-19 World Cups. He made his debut with the USMNT in March 2018 – the first player born in the 2000s to make an appearance with the senior team – and scored his first goal two months later.

Though injuries have cost him long stretches with the USMNT – he played in just eight games in 2021 because of a hamstring injury, and a sprained ankle kept him out of two September friendlies – the team is clearly better when he’s a part of it.

He isn’t as well known as Christian Pulisic or as eye-catching as Weston McKennie. But his smoothness and pace make him difficult to defend, and he brings a sophistication to the U.S. attack like no one else.

He also has surprising versatility. Normally a winger, Weah played right back in his last two games with club team Lille.

“I don’t have a problem with helping my team in any way,” Weah said. “I’m for the team. Wherever the coach wants to put me – if it’s defense, if he wants to put me at goalkeeper.”

Because this World Cup is being played in the middle of the European season, injuries have already been a huge factor. France will be without Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante. Senegal is hoping desperately that Sadio Mane will be able to play. And on Sunday, as Weah was making his way to Qatar, Morocco’s Amine Harit suffered a knee injury that will almost certainly keep him out of the World Cup.

The Americans, on the other hand, finally seem to be back to full strength after enduring a rash of injuries during qualifying and over the summer.

Weah said he never worried his sprained ankle would keep him out of the World Cup. His larger concern was being fully fit in time for the USMNT’s first game, Monday against Wales. After playing the full 90 minutes in each of Lille’s last two games, Weah said he’s ready to go.

“I feel like I’m at my best right now,” he said.

Weah’s father was scheduled to arrive in Qatar on Tuesday, and he plans to stay at least through the USMNT’s opener. While watching the World Cup can never be a substitute for playing in one, watching his son play in it will come pretty darn close.

“My goal is to stay positive, put in the work and just enjoy the experience because a lot of great players don’t even have the opportunity to play in the World Cup,” the younger Weah said. “For me, at 22, it’s a blessing. I’m just happy to be here.”

For himself, and for his father.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: World Cup has added meaning for USMNT’s Tim Weah after dad missed out

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