For the U.S. men's national team, the past World Cup cycle in 2018 was disastrous and disappointing. After failing to qualify (their first absence in more than three decades), they finally return to the big stage in 2022. The excitement across the fan base is evident, and with all this optimism brewing, supporters feel that Gregg Berhalter's squad can do more than just show up.
It's been a difficult journey for the Americans, one that included reflection and change, not just as a team but as a federation. Little by little, step by step, the fruits of their labor have paid off. From a more aggressive approach to recruitment to the continuous growth of Major League Soccer, the USMNT are reaping the rewards.
For 22-year-old winger Tim Weah, the team's journey and his own call-up to Qatar are a testament to all those factors. No matter how much he thinks about it, however, the fact that he's playing at the World Cup feels too surreal to put into words. "It's something that I never thought would happen," he says. "When I was younger, I always believed I would reach the professional stage, but to represent your country at a World Cup is crazy. I mean, it's a dream come true. It's something that a lot of good players haven't been able to do, and to have the opportunity to represent my country and my name is amazing. I feel blessed, I can't wait."
Berhalter's group has the undoubted capability to disrupt some conventional predictions and cause some noise in Qatar, and Weah -- one of the most gifted members of the team -- should play a major role. Patience has been a necessary virtue, however, as a foot injury forced him to miss out on September's international window and necessitated absences for his club Lille, in the French top flight, until last month.
In his second appearance after returning from injury, he made two assists in only 25 minutes against Strasbourg, while in the club's game against Rennes, he was man of the match playing as an auxiliary right-back, showing how much he can adapt on the right wing. This past Sunday, against Angers, he demonstrated it once again in a 1-0 victory.
Things are finally clicking for Weah, but as far he's concerned, he has never been someone who gets too carried away. Step by step is his philosophy. "I'm just taking it day by day right now. I feel completely blessed. This is what I've been working for, for a long time, so it's great to see a lot of great things coming together so I'm happy," he says.
"Blessed" is a word you will hear a lot when you speak to Weah, who doesn't have the typical background of a professional footballer. Born in New York City to a Jamaican mother and Liberian father (George Weah, the only African recipient of the Ballon d'Or, as well as the current president of Liberia) and having lived in many countries, including France since he was 14 years old, Weah's outlook on life is far more cultivated than that of most 22-year-olds.
I had this sentiment back in 2018, when I met him for the first time, and he was only 18. Four years later, his values are the same. Perhaps, there was an eagerness to his energy then, but now, he seems extremely grounded, sure of himself and his mission.
"I am definitely more mature than we last met," Weah says. "At that time, I was just getting started with PSG, then it all started with the national team, and everything was moving very fast. There was just a whole lot, but now I'm very zen. Much more mature. I got into meditating so my mental state is in the best place it can be." Weah's meditation routine is disciplined. Every day after training, he takes time to meditate and decompress, but at the same time, he uses it as an exercise to show gratitude for everything that has come to his life.
"I close my eyes for a minute and think about how blessed I am and how fortunate I am to have the things that I have," he adds, and describes how he also practices grounding exercises, a therapeutic technique that he says helps to reconnect with the earth. In grounding -- also called earthing -- the exercises rely on the electrical charges of the earth, and how it can have positive effects on your body. From this, the energy the body receives helps restore natural defenses that transport themselves to the immune system. Like how an antioxidant would work, but here your only tool is the earth itself.
"I think we forget how beautiful the earth is and the energy that the earth gives, it's a lot of healing energy and I have definitely tapped into that." I push him about his views on life, because as a 22-year-old, why does he feel he needs to be constantly thankful? Why is it so important to him that he outwardly expresses his gratitude? It's obviously a great trait, but is there a specific reason to it all?
"If we put the football aside, me as a person, I grew up in a household where my parents came from nothing. Obviously, I was fortunate that they had the opportunity to make ends meet. My dad was who he was, one of the greatest players in the history of the game, my mom was hardworking, went to school, now has her businesses, but the family morals that we had is where I really learned.
"Respect for everybody, a foundation on hard work. I don't take anything for granted. When I go back home to Liberia, you see so many people who struggle, and as athletes and young men who are successful, we tend to forget how blessed we are to be in the position that we are, because back home in New York I can go 'round the corner, and somebody has it very bad. I mean, that mindset has really kept me going, kept me energized and go get whatever I need to get done and basically ... work hard."
His work ethic is much like his football on the pitch. Relentless and driven. What's also important to him -- as more eyeballs are constantly on his every move due to his father's political career in Liberia -- is that his friends, his teammates and coaches know exactly who he really is. There is no facade with Weah.
"Tim has got to be one of the most genuine people I know, and that's something I appreciate about him," says Mark McKenzie, who plays for Belgian side Genk and unfortunately didn't get the call-up to Qatar. McKenzie was also born in New York and has known Weah since they were 10 years old, when they met at a regional talent camp. Due to their competitive nature and their similar personalities, they made an instant connection.
"I 100 percent agree with his sense of appreciation, he's always expressed that even when we have personal conversations about life and the journeys we have been on," McKenzie says. "We're blessed to do what we do, and he's always made it clear that he can't take it for granted because of the many ups and downs that come with life. Meditation and being grounded isn't new with him, and finding that inner peace amid the hectic nature of the football world. ... I'm a Christian and so much of my meditation comes from spending time reading my word and prayer, which is something we also share."
The USMNT face a tough group at the World Cup as England, Wales and Iran will show their qualities in the tournament, but there are also other obstacles for the Americans. For one, this team -- comparatively speaking -- is very young, and the overall experience of international competition, especially outside of North America, is still a proverbial training ground for them.
The narrative from those looking on the outside suggests that this World Cup comes a little too early for the Americans, with the squad's average age of 25 and only three members over 30. One goal is to use this experience as a dress rehearsal, a test drive for 2026, when the U.S. co-host the World Cup with Mexico and Canada.
"I don't really listen to all of that, to be honest," Weah says with a smile. "I think even though we're young, a lot of us are playing in our clubs and getting a lot of experience. I mean, I don't think age plays a factor at all. I feel like it's just how we execute on the day. We had a lot of ups and downs in the qualifiers, and we can't have that at this World Cup. Everything has to be positive, from the way we defend to the way we attack. We just have to be perfect ... the team has a lot of energy, a lot of young players who want it, we're all hungry, and we just have to apply it."
For Weah, the approach to every opponent is the same. There are no favorites, there is nothing yet written. Everything right now is there for the taking. "Ours is a pretty hard group, but I think any group in the World Cup is hard," he says. "Obviously you have teams that people expect to make it out, but I don't really think like that. Every game has to be treated like a final. World Cup football is very different to club where you know what you're getting out of many teams. You can't make a mistake because if you do, other teams will capitalize. You got to go in there completely focused, humble but also go in with that swagger that we have. You just have to execute."
England, a rival they'll face the day after Thanksgiving, possess an embarrassment of riches but have often lacked this specific mentality to just kill teams off and win it all. "I think they have gained the respect for us to see them as England," Weah says. "When you look at the team, guys like Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka -- you know there's a threat there, but we just have to worry about ourselves, worry how we are going to play and execute the way we want to execute. There's a lot of history between the U.S. and England that go way, way back. I think this game is there for bragging rights."
Aside from England, if the USMNT make it out of the group, Weah hopes to also face France, a team and nation he admires greatly. "I would love to play against them because I have a French passport and have been playing in France since I was 14 or 15. Having a connection with some of the players on that team, and them also being the winners of the last World Cup, I think it would be a good experience," he says.
His Lille teammate, Canadian star Jonathan David, probably shares similar sentiments as Canada have dreams of their own in this tournament, but Weah says that right now, their focus has purely been on the club and they don't talk too much about Qatar in the dressing room. Their deeper connection, however, is much more personal.
"Me and Jonathan are both born in Brooklyn. Both come from a background of parents who migrated to the states to make a life for themselves. I mean for us, it's a huge moment. Playing at the World Cup -- we always talk about it -- is a dream come true. Crazy when you think about it. He's happy, I'm happy and I hope he has the best World Cup that he can have, and I hope the same for myself. I want to see my brother shine just as much as myself."
Football aside, Weah is a busy man. He is currently releasing a promotional line of lifestyle clothing with New Balance alongside his friend and World Cup competitor Bukayo Saka, as well as footwear with Raheem Sterling and Sadio Mane. "I'm happy that they gave me an opportunity to be a part of it, and to be a part of history because this is a new age of New Balance athletes -- young, vibrant and not afraid to do whatever they want. It's really dope to be part of that for sure," he says.
Weah is excited about his future and constantly gives gratitude to his family, who planted the seeds of his journey. They made him the man he is today, and for that, he can never forget the roots of his story, and it isn't lost on him that he is doing something his father never achieved, which is play in the World Cup. The Weah name can now be represented on the biggest stage of all.
When it comes to football advice, however, you'd be surprised to learn who gives it the most in their household. "My dad is the more laid-back I would say. My mom is the one who is on me about performances and stuff like that. My dad is working obviously and stuff like that, but any tips I can get from him, he's always the first to coach me. 'Do that better,' or 'make that run,' simple stuff like that. It's good coming from him. What he's done in this sport has been amazing, so I am definitely all ears when he opens his mouth, but mom is definitely more too."
There's a lot going on with Tim Weah, personally and professionally, but he's more than ready for the journey. Grounded. Focused. Excited. Grateful. The opportunity to play in a World Cup, as surreal as it might seem to him, is coming, and soon, he'll be facing some of the best teams in the world. They might be young, he says, but the USMNT are ready to showcase their unity and determination, factors that can't be undervalued.
"I always say the best thing about this team is that we're a brotherhood, we're a family, and when you have a team that's a family, nothing can beat that. No matter what."