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For Tim Weah, a World Cup goal capped a family journey. Now he's ready for England

Tim Weah of the United States celebrates after scoring the team's goal during a World Cup match against Wales on November 21, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. Wales and the U-S finished 1-1.
Ryan Pierse
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Tim Weah of the United States celebrates after scoring the team's goal during a World Cup match against Wales on November 21, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. Wales and the U-S finished 1-1.

DOHA, Qatar- Anticipation is building for today's World Cup match between the U.S. and England, a titan of men's soccer.

Many American fans, though, are still looking back — replaying the opening 1-1 draw against Wales and the scintillating lone goal for the U.S., scored by forward Tim Weah. It made him an instant star, though he still may not be the most famous person in his own family.

Boring in on a memorable moment

Ask Weah the generic question "what do you remember most about the first half goal that staked the U.S. to a one-nil lead," and he'll give a fairly generic answer.

"What I remember most is the crowd going crazy and y'know, me with my hands out just running," he said. "it's an amazing feeling."

But ask him to bore in on the moment, and Weah will gladly pull apart the 5.3 seconds that started with teammate Christian Pulisic breaking into open space with the ball, and ended with Weah flicking it between a Welsh defender and the goalkeeper and into the net.

It was beautifully engineered and executed, and it did more than anything to announce the American's presence at this Qatar World Cup.

Sitting in a courtyard Thursday at the U.S. teams' beachfront hotel in Doha, Weah recounted how Pulisic started his run. Weah, to the right and ahead, angled toward the center of the field.

"I knew what run I was going to make because I saw the outside back a little separated from [the] center back side," Weah said. "So I knew I had to make that central run. I cut in front of the defender, caught him sleeping a little bit."

Pulisic, who Weah says he has a great connection with right now, then "put the ball on a platter." He threaded it between two defenders and led Weah perfectly.

"Christian did an amazing job of splitting the defense with his pass," Weah said.

As Weah received the pass, a defender was hot on his tail and Welsh goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey was charging toward Weah. It was decision time. Quickly.

"My peripheral [vision] is on the goalkeeper," Weah said. "So I'm seeing him at the side of my eye. And I'm just looking at the ball and I know I have two options: I can either flick it to the side of [Hennessey] because he's going to come out and he's going to get low quick. Or I can dribble [around] him."

Weah flicked. It worked. And he delivered joy to American soccer fans everywhere.

"I saw this video of this high school that was watching the game and they went crazy," Weah said. "And you know, I just thought about how that used to be me in that same position. You know in school, watching the World Cup, screaming with my friends and to have the tables turned and me being, you know, the person that's making them feel enjoyment, feel excitement? It's definitely, definitely something you dream of."

Thrilling two special fans

Among the thousands of U.S. fans going crazy at the match in Doha's Ahmad Bin Ali stadium, two were especially notable: George and Clar Weah, Tim's parents.

The moment was particularly meaningful for George Weah. In his time, he was soccer royalty.

George Weah of Paris St Germain charges past Sergi of Barcelona in 1995 during the European Cup quarterfinals in Barcelona, Spain.
Clive Mason / Getty Images
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George Weah of Paris St Germain charges past Sergi of Barcelona in 1995 during the European Cup quarterfinals in Barcelona, Spain.

With his heyday in the 1990s, Weah, a native of Liberia, established himself as Africa's top player. He's still the only African to win FIFA's World Player of the Year award and the prestigious Ballon d'Or, an annual trophy given to the world's best player. He starred for top European clubs, including Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan.

The one piece missing from his sterling resume, though, was a World Cup appearance. Tim Weah knows that makes his experience in Qatar, at 22, extra special.

Tim Weah smiles as he talks to his dad, George, on a cell phone during his interview with NPR's Tom Goldman. "Make sure your jersey is wet and dirty," George told his son.
/ Russell Lewis/NPR
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Russell Lewis/NPR
Tim Weah smiles as he talks to his dad, George, on a cell phone during his interview with NPR's Tom Goldman. "Make sure your jersey is wet and dirty," George told his son.

"It was his dream to play in a World Cup, [to] bring his country here. And he didn't get to do that," Weah said. "But I think he's living the moment through me. And I'm going to do my best to make sure that he enjoys every moment of it."

George Weah hasn't had to live through others much. He's not only a soccer legend, but since 2018 he's served as President of Liberia.

Here in Qatar though, he's "dad." Which is what Tim Weah's phone screen said when he called his father to ask if he'd answer a couple of our questions.

A plan and a wet, dirty jersey

"I'm very proud," George Weah said, "I'm very happy. My wife and I [are] happy and I think it justified our journey to Qatar. God has a plan for everyone you know, and God's plan for me was to not play World Cup. For [Tim] that was his dream. In 2010 I took him to South Africa and he said to me, 'Daddy, I'm going to play World Cup.' I didn't know."

Now that Tim's here, President Weah has a plan for how his son's team can beat England.

"It can happen," he said. "They have to make sure the jersey is wet, and is dirty. That's how to get victory. And score more goals."

You'd think having a president and soccer legend for a father might weigh down a 22-year-old with unrealistic expectations. But Tim Weah says his family name hasn't been a burden.

"I'm a very calm soul," Weah said, adding, "I've never let any of that get to me. My motto has always been to play my game and do what I can to make my family proud."

A next big moment arrives

Team USA missed the tournament four years ago, and Weah is one of 25 U.S. players on the 26-man roster who entered this tournament with zero World Cup experience. (Defender Deandre Yedlin is the lone returnee.)

Now that he has one match under his belt, and a score to boot, Weah says he'll take some early lessons into the England match.

"I've learned that the intensity is a lot more than regular club matches," Weah said. "I feel like everyone's playing [each] game as if it's a final. And I think [the U.S.] has to play both halves. Against Wales, second half we kind of died down a bit and I think that was a good learning moment for us. We just have to come into the next game against England with a different mentality. Finish up both halves."

Weah became nervous on the bus ride to the Wales match — the first time he says that had happened. He meditated with several teammates and replaced "nervousness with good vibes." By the time he stepped on the pitch, "I was good."

Weah says he and his teammates are a very ambitious group that knows what it's capable of. They are getting inspiration from some of the upsets that've marked the early matches of the tournament — Japan over Germany and the epic Saudi Arabia victory over one of the tournament favorites, Argentina.

"Who would've thought that in a million years," said Weah, "that Argentina would lose that game. So you know, for me, anything is possible."

Especially if — George Weah is saying somewhere — you get those jerseys wet and dirty. And oh yeah, score more goals.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tim Weah points to the sky after scoring the first U.S. goal of the 2022 World Cup against Wales on November 21, 2022.
Elsa / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Tim Weah points to the sky after scoring the first U.S. goal of the 2022 World Cup against Wales on November 21, 2022.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.

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