Liberian Players Abroad

Junior Lonestar Director express regret that Tim Weah wouldn’t represent Liberia

CHESTER >> The spotlight is nothing new for Tim Weah. A second cap for the U.S. National Team on a Monday in Chester might not exactly qualify for the 18-year-old.

Not when you play your home soccer in a park that seats just shy of 50,000 fans for one of the deepest-pocketed clubs in the world. Not when you’re the son of arguably the most famous soccer player a continent has ever produced. Not when you carry the name of a head of state.

All those things are true for Weah, born in New York and under contract for French giants Paris Saint-Germain. And so is the knowledge that most times when he walks on a field in the U.S., he’s got more than just the American fans behind him. He also has the support of the nation that revers his famous father, George Weah, the 1995 winner of the Ballon D’Or as World Football Player of the Year and current president of Liberia.

“It’s great having people that look up to my father because I know that if one day I make it to the place where I want to be or the stage that I want to be, I know they’ll have my back,” Weah said Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium, ahead of Monday’s friendly with Bolivia that saw his first national team start and goal. “I know they’ll be super supportive because of what my father’s done and what I’ve showed that I can probably do in the future. Having people that are also from my father’s birth county is just an amazing feeling, and for me it’s like family.”

George Weah, 51, became one of the top players of the 1990s, playing in France with Monaco and PSG and Italian giants AC Milan before loan stints in England. He earned 60 caps for Liberia over 20 years, a time that saw the country embroiled in a pair of civil wars. He’s regarded by many as one of the best players never to play in a World Cup.

After unsuccessful campaigns for president and vice present, he was elected in 2014 to the Liberian senate and sworn in as president earlier this year. The devotion to the elder Weah goes beyond tiny Liberia, as more than two decades later he remains the only African crowned World Player of the Year.

For Tim, the affection for his father manifests in legions of fans that grew up admiring him. And in Philadelphia, the Liberian connection is strongest via Junior Lonestar FC, a club based out of West Philly and Darby formed by refugees from Liberia.

Here’s how Paul Konneh, Junior Lonestar president, regards George Weah: “He means everything. We grew up watching George Weah, so he means everything to every one of us that loves soccer in Liberia,” Konneh said. “Everyone looked up to him and he did extremely well for Liberia, for the national team, he put us on the map. He made other countries take notice of Liberia. We are always, always grateful for what George Weah did for Liberian football.”

For the younger generation, Tim Weah is living that dream that many Liberians seek in the U.S. And that’s something that Lonestar hopes to convey to players.

“I would say it’s great footsteps,” says Samuel Cole, a Lonestar youth coach. “It gives a great image for our younger kids coming up. Most of our younger kids come from West Africa, so seeing someone that has kind of a similar story or their father has a similar story, it gives them hope that they can push up to a similar level.”

Tim has grown into his roots. He’s the youngest of three children of George and Clar Weah. He was eligible to represent Liberia, France, Jamaica (the nation of Clar’s birth) or the U.S., but chose the country in which he was raised. As he’s grown older, he’s developed a greater appreciation for his father’s homeland. Tim said he only remembers one visit to Liberia in his youth, but he’s been there four times over the past couple of years, aiding his family’s charitable causes.

“It’s a great feeling going back to the country, seeing the people, helping out,” Tim said. ”It’s just great to clear my mind from all the sports and I just love it there.”

To reinforce the family ties, Tim said his parents were the first people he called Monday when he found out he’d be starting. In the mixed zone postgame, he was eager to get to the bus to call his parents to tell them all about the goal. He had have five members of his extended family come down for the game.

“Those are the first two people I called, my parents. They’re really happy,” Tim said. “They told me to keep my head and just go out there and play, we love you Tim and do your thing.”

Konneh expressed some regret that Tim Weah wouldn’t represent the country of his father. But Tim said it wasn’t a hard decision to play for the only home country he’s ever known. And the emotion he showed Monday after scoring his first goal underscored that choice.

“I love this country,” he said. “And scoring for this country in front of all these fans was an amazing feeling.”

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