'We have a lot to prove, we are super hungry' - Weah ready to lead resurgent Lille and USMNT

Wea Lille 2021
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The American winger battled injuries that derailed his progress, but he is now back in goalscoring form at the right time

When your last name is Weah, it's hard to fly under the radar. That's something Timothy Weah has dealt with since the moment his career began.

There's a different kind of pressure that comes with being the son of the great George Weah, Ballon d'Or winner, African icon and the incumbent president of Liberia.

That last name Weah carries so much weight and so many expectations. It thrust the younger Weah into the public eye across three different continents as a teenager.

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Yet, as the U.S. men's national team begins a cycle-defining 2021, Weah is a player that has fallen out of focus. Long seen as one of the more promising attacking pieces of the USMNT's next generation of young stars, he has fallen further and further down the pecking order as other players commanded the limelight while he sat on the sidelines.

However, now, Weah's name is beginning to pop up more and more. The 20-year-old forward is finally healthy, finally scoring and, perhaps, finally ready to take his next step for both his club, French Ligue 1 leaders Lille, and his country.

"I'm feeling great now that I'm back to full fitness," Weah told reporters. "I keep in contact with Coach Gregg [Berhalter], of course. Whenever I score, whenever I do something great, he's always there texting me and encouraging me. 

"As a player, we are ambitious to be with the national team all the time. So hopefully with the performances that I've been having, I keep on doing what I'm doing, and, hopefully, I can get a little spot on the national team."

To earn that little spot, Weah must, first and foremost, stay fit. In recent years, his progress has been derailed by injuries, limiting his minutes with both Lille and the USMNT.

Hamstring injuries kept him out of the bulk of his first campaign with Lille, with Weah limited to just three appearances after making the switch from Paris Saint-Germain. 

His current campaign got off to a slow start too. He's played just 432 minutes in Ligue 1 this season, starting only three of the 18 matches he's appeared in.

However, it seems Weah is now back in goalscoring form. He scored a goal in Lille's 3-0 win against Bordeaux last week, his fourth of the season, before helping set up Jonathan David in a 2-0 victory over Nantes. 

Those goals are coming at the right time. Lille are leading what has rapidly become the hottest title race in the major European leagues. They sit just two points above Lyon, three above perennial champions PSG and six above a surging Monaco.

Lille's success hasn't been defined by big stars. Younger players like Weah, David and Sven Botman have begun to establish themselves and former Bayern Munich signing Renato Sanches has blossomed into the player many thought he could be. Jonathan Bamba and Yusuf Yazici have taken steps forwards themselves.

Experienced internationals like Jose Fonte and Burak Yilmaz have led the way, tying together a team that believes it can compete with the traditional powerhouses.

"I think it's a great group of young guys who have a lot to prove," he said of Lille. "We're all super hungry. 

"I want to speak on Renato as well, having a tough time at Bayern, he wanted to start all over again, he came here and look at the success he's had so far! 

"He's having a great time here everyone's having a great time and, as a group, we feel great. And everyone's just hungry to keep going and getting more."

He added: "You know football. You never know what's going to happen but, with this group of players and this coaching staff, our goal was to be at the top and that's where we are at the moment. So, we're happy with that and we just want to continue doing what we're doing."

Should Weah and Lille continue their run, the winger could certainly play himself into a regular role with the USMNT. He plays in a crowded position, though, one which features the likes of Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Jordan Morris and Paul Arriola.

When healthy, though, Weah has shown plenty with the USMNT. Despite his relative lack of experience, Weah's ability off the ball is spectacular and, in an attack featuring so many weapons, his knack for finding space will open doors for all of those around him.

Given the USMNT's lack of a No.9, Weah could also feature at striker, where he has played for Lille.

As he continues to push his way into the picture for a legitimate title contender, Weah is also watching on as other Americans like Pulisic, Reyna, Weston McKennie, Sergino Dest and Tyler Adams do the same across Europe. And what he sees is plenty of reason for optimism with the national team, even as he now enters a fierce competition for USMNT spots.

Weah GFX

"It's great. Everyone's so happy for each other," he said. "Seeing Christian at Chelsea, Serge at Barca, Gio is young and doing his thing, Weston and Tyler, all those guys. It's amazing to see because, myself, I grew up with Serge and Tyler with Tyler and I playing on the same team with the Red Bulls. And coming from MLS to seeing us thriving in Europe, it's amazing. 

"When we get together, it's a great camp. We have fun. We enjoy each other's company.

"I feel like, eventually, as we continue to gel, as we continue to play together, the football is going to be amazing. As everyone does their thing in their clubs, we're going to be playing, top, top football and, hopefully, in the future, we can bring a cup home."

Lofty aims from the striker, but aims matched by several of his international team-mates. This is the year that process begins, though, as the road to Qatar in 2022 gets under way this summer.

Weah featured against Wales and Panama back in November in his first international appearances since 2018 and could well become a key part of Berhalter's plans. After several years away, he's no longer flying under the radar.

And, as for the weight of his name, that doesn't bother the 20-year-old American. Rather, it's a source of inspiration, a reminder of how far his father has come and how much further he himself still has to go.

"Never ever," he said when asked if he ever gets tired of hearing about his father, "because I'm proud. I'm proud. He's paved the way for me and I'm so proud of what he's done.

"Coming from a third-world country like Liberia, where there was nothing, where the odds were against him and he came to Europe did what he had to do and won the Ballon d'Or. 

"That's amazing, so I wish that I can just do great things and continue to make him proud."

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