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Country over club: Tim Weah chooses to play with U.S. for U-20 World Cup

Tim Weah’s desire to play for the U.S. in the FIFA U-20 World Cup led Celtic to cut short his loan stint

NEW YORK — Tim Weah has already started to establish himself as one of the bright young stars of the USMNT.

And there was a good chance Weah would have been selected to Gregg Berhalter’s squad for this summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup squad, likely joining other budding stars, such as Josh Sargent and Tyler Adams.

But Weah had other plans. The 19-year-old wanted to play in the FIFA U-20 World Cup. He and his agent told U.S. coach Tab Ramos as much.

“One of the things I can tell you that hasn’t wavered the whole time is the fact that Tim really wanted to participate in the U-20 World Cup,” Ramos said in a roundtable with reporters Friday in lower Manhattan. “And I think when you have a player really looking forward to a competition that he believes is important for him, I think it makes things easier.”

What was difficult for Ramos was Weah’s club commitments. The forward was enjoying a successful loan stint with Celtic in the Scottish Premier League. He scored four goals in 16 appearances and was preparing for Sunday’s Old Firm Derby against Rangers.

But his loan was cut short two weeks early by Celtic.

“The gaffer told me it is in the best interest of the team that I collect my things and go home,” Weah said on Instagram.

View this post on Instagram

To all my Celtic Fans❤️🍀 I want to say thank you all for the undying support you have given me throughout my time with Celtic. I will be joining my National team to participate in the U20 World Cup in Poland. With this decision, the gaffer told me that it is in the best interest of the team that I collect my things and go home rather than be apart of the game on Sunday so I’ll be on my way. It was a true honor playing for this club and also having the opportunity to interact with legends who paved the way for us. As a young player, I feel it’s an important step in trying to advance myself. I still have a lot of growing to do in my game and I am especially thankful to the Celtic family for giving me the opportunity to show you all what I am capable of doing once given the chance. To you the fans, I will never forget you for all the love, support and kindness you have shown me. I don’t know as yet what the future holds but I wish to one day come back to this great club to be with you all. I will forever miss you chanting my name and hearing the beautiful song you have created for me. I also want to take this time to thank my wonderful teammates for supporting me every step of the way. It was really great playing with you all and sharing some really amazing moments that I’ll never forget . Thanks so much to Celtic FC and to you the fans for accepting me. 🙏🏾God bless🙏🏾❤❤🍀🍀🍀🍀🍀🍀🍀🍀

A post shared by TIMO WEAH 🇯🇲🇱🇷 (@timothyweah) on

A day before that announcement, Ramos had said he conversed with Celtic manager Neil Lennon and Peter Lawwell, the club’s chief executive, about arrangements for Weah, especially with the first U.S. match in Poland the day before Celtic’s Scottish Cup final against Hearts.

“There’s a lot of discussions still being had, so there’s a number of scenarios that could still happen,” Ramos said. “I think all of those scenarios likely include Tim coming to us next Tuesday and likely being with us for the Uruguay game next Sunday.”

Things became much clearer Saturday. Surely, this is welcome news for Ramos, who has a player on his roster in Weah who has an unmatched resume.

“It means a lot. It means a lot to me that he trusts the program to come back to it and be willing to participate. And at the same time, I think it means a lot to the other guys,” Ramos said. “But now we have to get the job done. It’s not about what we have on paper, and paper doesn’t really matter that much until you step on the field.”

Weah, who has one goal in eight appearances with the USMNT, came up through the Paris Saint-Germain system after spending his younger years with Blau-Weiss Gottschee and the New York Red Bulls academy.

He spent the 2018 season with the PSG first team. He had one goal in five appearances, but more importantly regularly trained alongside world superstars Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani.

“The thing about Tim Weah was he has that killer instinct,” Ramos said. “He’s a winner. And he’s constantly looking to hurt you to win the game. And I think the fact that he had an opportunity to be on a roster with guys like Mbappe and Neymar and Cavani for the year, I think that can only help.”

Ramos put Weah on his provisional 50-man roster with the hope he’d be able to participate in the World Cup. It was an insurance policy, one he similarly took out on Sargent. A player with his skillset was too good to leave off the roster altogether.

“I like his personality. I like that he’s aggressive mentally to try to win and to make plays,” Ramos said of Sargent. “Obviously, he has great speed, is a great one-v-one player and he can shoot from outside the box. So those are three qualities that he can open up the defense with on on his own, without the rest of the team.”

While Ramos said it’s clear Sargent will be with the USMNT this summer, Weah’s desire to play in the World Cup convinced Ramos and Berhalter.

“Tim has shown real interest in participating because he wants to have this type of competition under his belt,” Ramos said. “And that’s something that Gregg got on board with and believed in, so we decided that together.”

Because of his wealth of experience already, Weah would likely be a natural leader on Ramos’ 21-man roster. But Ramos said he believes there’s already enough on Weah’s plate. He doesn’t need to put more pressure on the young forward. 

“We have a couple of older guys who have been with the team. I think it falls more on them in terms of the leadership of the team,” Ramos said. “I just want Tim to come in and be happy and play. That’s what this is about. I want him to be a happy player. Happy players play well.”

While it’s been cleared up that Weah will play, the question is now where on this roster. He’s spent time as a forward, but has also featured on the wing for the USMNT.

“I really liked him as a No. 9 and I like him as a winger too,” Ramos said. “I think for our senior national team, it’s more likely that he will be a winger. So I think it’ll be better with this group if he plays mostly winger. So I can tell you that most of the time, he will likely be a winger. But I would like to use them as a No. 9 as well because I think it can be a great No. 9 for us.”

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