Andrew Carleton’s cry for the pass could be heard in a half-empty JLN stadium. Ayo Akinola waved at his teammate while Josh Sargent signaled Akinola to swap positions. The defenders, too, were tracking back anticipating a square pass. But only Timothy Weah knew what was coming next.
Indiana Vassilev’s pass from the centre circle found Weah in acres of space on the left wing. The PSG starlet casually collected it and gave an impression that he was going to play it square. Instead, he took an in-step, dropped his left shoulder and let the ball fly. Paraguay right-back Jesus Rolon prayed the shot would sail over — he had been made to look like a novice.
But the moment it flew off Weah’s boots, there was going to be just one outcome. The ball curled just enough to find the far post, giving goalkeeper Diego Huesca no chance. And in that moment, Weah proved why he is a notch ahead of most of his teammates.
All through the US campaign so far, Weah was haunted by comparisons with his legendary father George, a Ballon d’Or winner and one of Africa’s best. Weah Senior is involved in a close election campaign in Liberia, where he is in contention to be the country’s president. But at every step, Weah has been reminded of his father’s exploits on field. This was a goal even George, a scorer of many such great goals, would’ve been proud of.
More importantly, it was a goal that put the result of the match beyond any doubt. Weah eventually scored a hat-trick, a great response after being benched in USA’s defeat to Colombia in their final group stage match. On Monday, US bounced back to beat Paraguay 5-0 in their Round of 16 tie, relying largely on Weah’s heroics.
While his second goal was a moment of individual brilliance, the first – in the 19th minute – was a perfect team effort. Akinola, on the right wing, got to the end of a superb through ball from the centre. He squared it for Weah, who beat Rolon for pace and tapped it in with a slide.
Andrew Carleton scored the USA’s third in the 63rd minute from Sargent’s assist while the captain got on to the score-sheet in the 74th, timing his run perfectly to receive Carleton’s through ball before finishing emphatically to find the top right corner.
Weah completed his hat-trick shortly afterward, from a similar position to his first. He became the fifth player to score a hat-trick for USA in the senior or junior World Cup. The last player to do so was Freddy Adu 10 years ago.
And Weah couldn’t have timed his performance better. The win comes at a time when US football is going through one of its most turbulent phases after the senior men’s team failed to qualify for a World Cup for the first time since 1986. Under the circumstances, this result acts as a healer.
Before the match, US coach John Hackworth had mentioned the kind of pressure this team was under to win. This is considered to be one of the most gifted US youth teams ever. And Weah heads the pack. His performance on Monday only added to his reputation.