Tim Weah was supposed to spend most of his Wednesday evening in Columbus sitting on a bench.
He wasn’t supposed to start the U.S. men’s national team’s pivotal World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica. When he did, as a last-minute injury replacement, he was supposed to exit after an hour of taxing labor. Reinforcements had been prepared. Weah, according to keen observers on site, looked “cooked.”
But then, with the USMNT struggling to break a 1-1 tie, and with opportunity waning, Weah burst into the penalty box. He barely even glanced at goal. And he sent the U.S. to the top of North and Central America’s qualifying table with a textbook finish.
Technically, it will go down as an own goal. And on paper, Weah’s whirlwind of a Wednesday night will look relatively mundane. He played 73 minutes. He didn’t score. He exited to polite applause, one of many contributors to a crucial 2-1 U.S. victory. Sergiño Dest was the original star. Tyler Adams and Yunus Musah were vital. Weah’s performance was strong but unspectacular.
But under these circumstances, it was remarkable. In the hours, and even minutes, leading up to Wednesday’s kickoff, the 21-year-old from New York didn’t even know when he’d get on the field. He only found out he’d start when Paul Arriola, penciled in as the right winger, pulled out of warmups with a groin injury. U.S. Soccer announced the late change 13 minutes before gametime. Weah replaced Arriola on short notice, perhaps unprepared for a 90-minute battle.
And indeed, early in the second half, he seemed to be struggling. But he pounced on Sergiño Dest’s clever pass and completed the USMNT’s second crucial comeback in as many months.
The evening had begun ominously. Smoke from pregame fireworks hadn’t even cleared. A daunting tifo still lingered when, 59 seconds into the match, Costa Rica struck. Bryan Ruiz, the longtime Costa Rican wizard, unlocked the U.S. right side with a clever back-heel. Ronald Matarrita beat Dest down the line. Matarrita’s cross found its way to an unmarked Keysher Fuller at the back post.
Fuller’s volley was tame. But Zack Steffen, a mildly controversial choice to start over Matt Turner, seemed to be put off by Costa Rican striker Jonathan Moya, who was right in his lap.
And Moya wasn’t offside, because back where the cross came from, Dest was all the way off the pitch.
Dest, though, would soon redeem himself. At the end of a 13-pass move, he danced inside onto his non-dominant left foot and sent a thunderbolt into the top corner to level the score at one.
The U.S. bossed much of the game. Either side of halftime, it pressed and pressed for a winner. Weah, via a post and a goalkeeper’s back, snatched it. And once again, three days after a dismal display, sent a fan base into a panic, the USMNT is back on track to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.