The United States men’s national team squad that will face Paraguay Tuesday night has an average age of just 23. There’s even less experience in the squad than that number suggests — the players have an average of just seven caps apiece. The USMNT’s failure to qualify for the World Cup has led it to hand opportunities to a new generation of young talent, and the most exciting player to take the pitch in North Carolina might be uncapped, 18-year-old Paris Saint-Germain attacker Timothy Weah.
Weah, like many members of this squad, wasn’t anticipating getting his first senior call-up quite so soon.
“I think if they would have qualified they would have kept the same players, the Dempseys, the Altidores,” Weah said before training on Monday. “So it’s been great for us young guys to get that early experience and it’ll be great for the future.
“I knew that probably, one of these days I’d get a call-up, but I wasn’t sure when, and it’s finally here,” he added. “Now it’s time. We have to focus, rebuild.”
Weah is a big fan of the “trust the process” mantra popularized by the Philadelphia 76ers and star center Joel Embiid. He’s trying to get the rest of his squad to adopt it too.
“Everyone’s really taking that in, I’m going to get the guys to start using that on Twitter because it’s really a process,” Weah said. “Not qualifying for the World Cup has been a hard time for us, but it’s a new era, and we’re looking forward to everything that we’re going to do with these young guys.”
Weah, son of PSG and AC Milan legend George Weah — the only African player to ever win the Ballon d’Or, and also the current president of Liberia — has been on the radar of American soccer fans for a few years. He signed for the New York Red Bulls academy in 2013, moved to PSG a year later, and debuted for the United States under-17 national team in 2015. He announced his presence in Europe by scoring a hat trick in his first UEFA Youth League match, and he did the same in the Round of 16 at the Under-17 World Cup against Paraguay.
Impressively, Weah made his debut for the PSG senior side before he turned 18. He has pace, skill, and creativity possessed by most young attackers who star at youth international level and get handed pro debuts as teenagers, but what sets him apart is his confidence. On the pitch, Weah is always willing to run at defenders and try to win one-on-one battles, and doesn’t get discouraged if he gets tackled a couple of times. Off the pitch, his words are bold and courageous too.
“I think Paraguay’s bringing a lot of vets, so tomorrow we’re going to come out with a type of bang that they’re not going to expect from this team,” Weah said. “Because we do have a lot of young guys, a lot of guys who are playing for good teams. It’s going to be great and we’re going to shock them tomorrow.”
Weah is also willing to say things that everyone assumes other players are thinking, but refuse to express out loud. “In France we’re a little bit more chill because the league is a little bit easy for us, but here I know we have a high level of competition,” Weah said, and everyone within earshot laughed. “Playing a team like Paraguay, I think it’s the best South American team [for us to play against] because they work really hard, they’re really fast on the break.”
When asked what was at stake for the USMNT on Tuesday, Weah said “starting over, for the whole team. Starting over and setting everything straight from the get-go, and winning our first game together as a young group would be great.”
Then, he offered up a perfect summary of himself and his career so far.
“I’m a young kid, but I’m ready for the challenge.”