CINCINNATI – “End product.” If you’ve watched or read about high-level soccer for any length of time, you’ve probably heard pundits or commentators use the phrase, often in a critical sense when players conjure up moments of skill and beauty that don’t directly translate into goals and victories.
The US men’s national team delivered on both sides of that coin against Mexico on Friday night, banking a big 2-0 W in the Octagonal stage of Concacaf World Cup qualifying while also entertaining onlookers in aesthetic terms. And no one epitomized it quite like Tim Weah, the winger who assisted on Christian Pulisic’s game-winner and delivered the telling pass that led to Weston McKennie’s clincher.
“With Tim it's about mentality. When he has it in his mind and he’s set, he can execute all day. And it's just about him focusing on how he's going to perform,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said after the match. “He got the coaches’ man of the match [award] today, just because he didn't stop. He didn't stop working, he was causing them fits on that side of the field.”
Weah completed three key passes on the night, passing at an 88.9 percent completion rate overall and winning 75 percent of his duels in what probably ranks as his breakthrough performance for the USMNT. It was a display that richly illustrated the massive potential talent spotters have long marveled at, only to be sidetracked and delayed by repeated bouts with serious injuries.
“I put in a good shift tonight. In terms of my confidence, I’m playing with my club team [Lille], so when I come here and play, it's amazing to be with the boys,” Weah told reporters postgame. “It's just super fun and we executed tonight, that’s the most important thing.”
It wasn’t just the quality of his service and output, but the nature of it – the quick feet and elusive touches that repeatedly bewitched Mexico left back Jesus Gallardo, and slick pass-and-move combinations with Ricardo Pepi and DeAndre Yedlin, the surging gallops into space down the flank. The twinkle-toed stepovers to skin Gallardo before plunking that decisive cross on Pulisic’s head was the coup de grace.
“Honestly, it was just the air out there tonight. Being back home in front of thousands of people, the fans came out, they showed their support. They brought the energy and I kind of just fed off of that,” Weah said of that moment, flashing a quick smile.
“I tried to add a little bit of sauce in there on that cross, and it worked – I pulled it off and it was great. Confidence is high, everyone's confidence is high. You know, just coming out here and seeing the fans support us in the way that they do has been amazing and that’s what’s really pushing us, so I thank them.”
Weah revealed he and Yedlin had also set up Pulisic on the other memorable aspect of the game-winner: the “man in the mirror” message written on Pulisic’s undershirt, a kiss-off to El Tri goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa that he revealed in his celebrations. It was both a parting blow to the USMNT’s rivals and an apt summation of the team’s burgeoning swagger and belief.
“Yeah me and DeAndre, the night before, asked the kit guys to make it for him,” explained Weah. “It’s just to send a message, you know? I think it’s a new era now. Before the game, Mexico was talking a lot of smack, and beating them just shuts them up. And we have to continue to win games, continue to beat them. That’s the only way we’re going to earn their respect and earn the world’s respect. I think we’re on a great path right now and the future is bright.”
As bullish as that may sound, it was well in proportion with the level the USMNT reached against a rugged adversary on a massive occasion, with the outcome pushing them into first place as the Octagonal passes its halfway point.
And in spite of their youth – it was somewhat surreal to hear the 21-year-old Weah say “it’s amazing to see such a young guy do such great things” in praise of his friend and teammate Yunus Musah, who is 18 – the group seems to have grounded their self-assurance in reality.
“Obviously beating our rivals, it's a great feeling. Confidence is through the roof,” said Weah. “But the most important thing is to stay modest and stay humble, because Concacaf is hard, any game – the ball is round, you can lose some, you can win some. But we just have to go off the positives. We all feel good right now, no egos in the team, everyone's happy to be here. Guys are ready; if somebody gets injured, the next guy’s ready. So it’s a good vibe.”