Tim Weah on USMNT ambitions, Lille's title chase, his famous father and advice for Americans going abroad

Of all the American-born players currently in the U.S. national team pool, none left home at a younger age or has had bigger shoes to fill than 20-year-old Lille forward Tim Weah.

Weah, the son of the legendary George Weah, was born in Brooklyn and spent time in Florida and New York before moving to France when he was 14.

His first coach was not his father, now the president of Liberia, but his mother, Clar, a Jamaican immigrant who met George when he came to the Chase Bank branch she was working at to open an account.

When Tim was a child, the Weahs moved from New York to Florida and back to New York. Tim played soccer at West Pines United in Florida, at Rosedale Soccer Club in Queens, whose founder is his uncle, Michael Duncan, the father of fellow U.S. international Kyle Duncan, at BW Gottschee, founded by Gottscheers, ethnic Germans displaced from Slovenia after World War II, and the New York Red Bulls academy.

Weah was 12 when he was selected for his first national team camp, a U-14 gathering in late 2012. Among the players Hugo Perez also picked were Tyler Adams, Jonathan Amon and Sam Vines, who have all become U.S. internationals, and Jonathan Gonzalez, who now represents Mexico after playing for the U.S. U-20s in Concacaf qualifying.

In 2013, Weah was selected to U.S. Club Soccer’s id2 program along with Adams and Gonzalez. The next year, Weah moved to France to join Paris St. Germain, where his father had starred.

"As my dad played in France, everyone thought it would be less of an adjustment than Spain or Italy, for example," he said in a media call arranged by Ligue 1 this week to promote itself in the United States. "It has worked so far, and I am having fun and speak French. It is my second home. My father has played a big role, but my mom drives me. I want to do great things, too."

Weah said he is not tired of being asked about his father, winner of the Ballon d'Or in 1995, the first year France Football opened the award up to European-based players who represented national teams outside Europe.

"Following in his footsteps is amazing and talking about him or being asked about him never ever gets old," he said. "I am proud of the way my dad paved the way for me and what he did coming from a third-world country like Liberia back when there was nothing. I hope to keep making them proud."

USYNT success. Weah quickly broke into the PSG first team, debuting when he was 18. He scored his first goal on the opening day of the 2018-19 season but was quickly displaced from the first team when PSG's stars returned from vacation after the 2018 World Cup.  It was with the USA that he made a name for himself and helped land a move from PSG to Lille on a $10 million transfer in 2019.

He became the first American male to score a hat trick in the knockout phase of a World Cup when he scored three goals in the 5-0 win over Paraguay in the 2017 Under-17 World Cup's round of 16, and he was one of the best players for the USA at the 2019 Under-20 World Cup, earning the respect of the U.S. Soccer staff for his request to play with the U-20s instead of competing for a spot on the Gold Cup roster.

But Weah was injured soon after he arrived at Lille, suffering a series of hamstring injuries that eventually required surgery.  The French season was shut down when the pandemic hit in March, and he returned home to New York to rehab.

"The injury was tough," he said. "My first real injury. Then there was the relapse and we decided to do surgery and take time off to really get back to my PSG-level fitness."

Hot Dogues. Les Dogues have one of the deepest teams in Europe with 10 players valued at $15 million or more. Their depth in attack limited Weah to just a few minutes, if that, as the fourth or fifth player off the bench, but things changed in December. He helped trigger the comeback in a 2-1 win over Sparta Prague that clinched a berth in the Europa League's knockout stage. And he scored in his first start of the season in the next game against Celtic, at which he played on loan in 2019.

The goals have followed in Ligue 1, in wins at Dijon, Montpellier and Bordeaux, all on Wednesdays, earning him a feature in the sports daily L'Equipe as Ligue 1's midweek maestro. Since December when his playing time in Ligue 1 increased, Lille has taken 37 of 45 points and enters the Brest match with a seven-game winning streak, the last five by shutouts.

“Everyone is super-focused," said Weah. “Everyone is tuned in. Our main goal is to continue playing how we’re playing and take it step by step but also stay at that high level of football. That’s what we’re getting at the moment. We’re happy with the way we’re playing and we’re super-excited to see what the future has for us.”

Lille coach Christophe Galtier has praised Weah for his work ethic and perseverance after he missed most of the 2019-20 season and saw little or no playing time at the start of the 2020-21 season.

"The coach has an amazing game plan and loves to attack," said Weah. "His football is based on teamwork and what you can do for the team. He is one of the best I have ever worked with and one of the best in the world, for me. He is like a father figure -- you cannot ask for better. This is a great group of young guys. We are all super hungry. Even Renato [Sanches], who was at Bayern, he wanted to start over here. We feel great and everyone is hungry."

Lille specializes in buying or developing young talent and selling them to bigger clubs. Its most famous product is Eden Hazard, who grew up in nearby Belgium. The current team includes three players from Turkey (Yusuf Yazici, Burak Yilmaz and Zeki Celik) and four from Portugal (Zeka, Tiago Djalo, Jose Fonte and Sanches).

“I think it’s great,” Weah said of Lille's multi-national squad. “It’s a group of young guys that have a lot to prove. We’re all super hungry. Speaking on Renato, he was having a tough time at Bayern. He wanted to start all over again. He came here and look at the season he’s had so far. He’s having a great time here. Everyone’s having a great time.”

North American connection. Lille is the only European club with players from the United States, Canada and Mexico on its first team.

Canadian forward Jonathan David was Lille's big offseason signing, and after a very slow start has found his stride with five goals during Lille's current winning streak.

“I knew when he was coming in that we were gonna be close," said Weah, "we were gonna be good friends because we’re both from North America. He’s such a down to earth guy, and we just got along immediately. It shows when we’re in training — we’re laughing, we’re playing around, we’re joking on the field. We have that connection, as well as the other players. This group, there’s really no ego. Everyone gets along. It’s just wonderful: You come into training, you’re happy and that shows in our games. It’s a lot of unselfish players and everyone plays for the team. That’s what really has gotten us so far.”

Eugenio Pizzuto, 18, is in his first season at Lille. He was born in Mexico but spent two years in New Zealand.

“That’s my boy, that’s my boy,” Weah said when asked about Pizzuto, captained Mexico to second place at the 2019 Under-17 World Cup. “We have little nicknames for each other. I call him ‘Duku’ because that’s what they call him on the Mexican national team, and he calls me ‘Tecatito’ because I watch [Jesus] Corona from Porto. That’s one of my favorite attackers, so he calls me ‘Tecatito’ on the field."

Encouragement from Berhalter. Weah earned nine caps for the USA under Dave Sarachan but did not make his first appearance under Gregg Berhalter until the 6-2 win over Panama in November.

“I keep in contact with coach Gregg, of course,” Weah said. “Whenever I score or whenever I do something, great he’s always there texting me and encouraging me. As a player, we are ambitious to be with the national team all the time. Hopefully, with the performances that I’ve been having, hopefully I keep doing what I’m doing and hopefully I can get a spot on the national team.”

Weah has known many of the national team players for many years, including Adams, whom he played with at the Red Bulls academy when he was 13, and Sergino Dest, who was also on the 2017 U-17 World Cup and 2019 U-20 World Cup teams.

"Everyone is so happy for each other," Weah said. "Christian [Pulisic] at Chelsea, Sergino at Barca. Tyler and those guys. It is amazing that Tyler and I came from Red Bull in MLS to Europe. The soccer is going to be amazing the more we gel and play at club level and hopefully we can bring a cup home in the future."

Weah, who turns 21 on Feb. 22, already has a wealth of experience after seven years in Europe.

“First, stay strong," he said when asked what advice he has for Americans going abroad. "You’re going to have to make sacrifices. You’re gonna have to be away from your family, the things you love, the things you love to do, but make that sacrifice and do something that’s great. Do something that’s going to put you on the map. Just be yourself and show the world what you can do.”

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