U.S. forward Tim Weah scores the team's only goal in its World Cup opener
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Anticipation is building for tomorrow's World Cup match between the U.S. and England, a legendary country in men's soccer. But many American fans are still looking back, replaying the opening match against Wales and the scintillating lone goal by the U.S. scored by forward Tim Weah. It made him an instant star, even though he may not be the most famous person in his own family. From Doha, Qatar, NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It happened so quickly, says Tim Weah. Ask him the generic - what do you remember most about the first-half goal that staked the U.S. to a one-nil lead? - he'll give a fairly generic answer.
TIM WEAH: The crowd going crazy, and, you know, me with my hands out, just running. It was an amazing feeling.
GOLDMAN: 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 two defenders into the Wales net - a stylish play that did more than anything to announce the Americans' presence at this World Cup. Sitting in a courtyard today at the U.S. team's beachfront hotel, Weah recounted how Pulisic started his run, Weah to the right and ahead of him, angled toward the center of the field.
T WEAH: So I cut in front of the defender, caught him sleeping a little bit...
GOLDMAN: Pulisic, Weah says, then put the ball on a platter. He threaded it between two defenders and led Weah perfectly.
T WEAH: Christian did an amazing job of splitting the defense with his pass.
GOLDMAN: And then, as Weah received the pass, a defender was hot on his tail, and it was decision time. With the Welsh goalkeeper charging toward him, Weah knew he had two options - flick the ball to the side of the keeper or turn and dribble in against him. He flicked, it worked, and Weah delivered joy to American soccer fans everywhere.
T WEAH: I saw this video of this high school that was watching the game, and they went crazy. And, you know, I just thought about how that used to be me in that same position.
GOLDMAN: Among the thousands of U.S. fans going crazy at Doha's Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, two were especially notable - George and Clar Weah, Tim's parents. This moment is particularly meaningful for George Weah, who, in his time, personified soccer greatness.
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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: ...Rather well. And George Weah and Chelsea take the lead.
GOLDMAN: With his heyday in the 1990s, Weah, a native of Liberia, established himself as Africa's top player. In 1995, he won the prestigious Ballon d'Or, an annual trophy given to the world's best player. The one missing piece to his bulging soccer resume was a World Cup appearance. Tim Weah knows that makes his experience at 22 extra special.
T WEAH: You know, it was his dream to play in a World Cup, bring his country here, and, you know, he didn't get to do that. But I think he's living the moment through me, and I'm going to do my best to make sure that, you know, he enjoys every moment of it.
GOLDMAN: George Weah hasn't had to live through others much. Not only a soccer legend, since 2018 he's been president of Liberia. But here in Qatar, he's Dad, which is what Tim's phone screen says when he calls to see if his father would answer a couple of our questions.
President Weah, how exciting was it for you - all that you accomplished in your football career, and not getting to play in a World Cup - to see Tim do that?
PRESIDENT GEORGE WEAH: I'm very proud. I'm very happy. God has a plan for everyone, you know, and God's plan for me was not to play World Cup.
GOLDMAN: But President George Weah does have a plan for his son's team to beat England tomorrow.
G WEAH: It can happen. They have to make sure that the jersey is wet and is dirty. You know, that's how to get victory.
GOLDMAN: A wet and dirty jersey - we will watch for that.
I hand the phone back to Tim who gets the one last bit of parental coaching himself.
G WEAH: Wet and dirty your jersey, and score more goals (laughter).
T WEAH: Yeah. I will. All right. I'll call you later.
G WEAH: OK, Tim.
GOLDMAN: You'd think having a president/soccer legend for a father might weigh down a 22-year-old with expectations. Tim Weah says his family name hasn't been a burden.
T WEAH: I'm a very calm soul. I've never let any of that get to me. My motto has always just been to play my game and do what I can to make my family proud.
GOLDMAN: Family proud? Check. Country proud? After the Wales match, big check. And tomorrow, a next potential moment for Weah and the U.S. team. England is favored, but Weah says the American players are a very ambitious group that knows what it's capable of, especially with wet and dirty jerseys and more goals. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Doha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.