In the 11th minute of the United States’ World Cup qualifier down in Jamaica on Tuesday, Tim Weah received a connecting pass from Gianluca Busio, turned towards goal, and produced a moment of perfection. The game’s momentum had slowed to a crawl right before the Lille attacker started his move, and his path to the goal was blocked by three Jamaican defenders and the keeper. Weah disposed of each of them in different ways: An onrushing Javain Brown overstepped himself as Weah squeezed through a clever pass to Ricardo Pepi; Damion Lowe got left in the dust when Weah received the ball back and knifed into the box; Bobby Decordova-Reid was flummoxed by Weah’s tricky tap-around; and Andre Blake’s valiant defense of his near post was rendered useless as Weah chipped the ball over his shoulder, off the far post, and into the goal.
I assumed Weah’s shot had missed off the near side and ricocheted back into the net or something when I first saw it in real time. The sudden pinging sound seemed like the product of a failed attempt to sneak one in on near-post and Weah’s posture seemed like an impossible position to fire a hard shot from. But no, Weah is just that good. Scoring that sort of goal requires a seriously high level of control, quick decision making, and instinct, and Weah made the Jamaica defense look slow and inexperienced. His goal turned out to be the USMNT’s only goal of the night, and each team left with a point after Michail Antonio profaned Newtonian mechanics with this 22nd-minute stunner.
Just over halfway through the World Cup qualification cycle, the USMNT sits second in the table, one point behind Canada. (Hey, Canada is good!) Their three remaining home games are against markedly weaker teams, and they’ve already established dominance over Mexico. Had I not witnessed the USMNT self-immolate at the end of the last cycle, I would write something about how the team can start looking at what the weather is like in Doha. I think we can safely avoid invoking any curses by agreeing that the USMNT is “in a good spot.”
Most importantly, the team has a clear sense of itself. The USMNT looked scared and overwhelmed when the qualification cycle began. Six games later, they ran through Mexico. Gregg Berhalter has played the same formation three games in a row, and his once-beloved MLS clown squad has mostly sat on the bench. The matter of how the team will play has mostly been answered, it’s now just a matter of who will fill those spots.
Weah has probably seized control of the right winger slot after consecutive performances as the USMNT’s best player. His game-breaking cross to Christian Pulisic against Mexico and impressive goal against Jamaica will and should get most of the attention, though he was excellent throughout both games. Weah has shown himself useful attacker who can play a position of real need. His passing is decisive and accurate, he can break the lines with his speed, and his movement in both directions always seems to give the USMNT an edge down his flank. That last bit is pretty critical, given who he’s replacing. Paul Arriola earned Berhalter’s trust chiefly because we was willing to get mean and do the dirty work of tracking back in order to free Sergiño Dest for psychedelic feats of strength in the attack. Weah hasn’t started alongside Dest yet, but there’s reason to believe that the fit will be a good one.
Tyler Adams was notably diminished against Jamaica, though it was a grimy game played on a moonscaped pitch days after the biggest USMNT game of his career. The midfield he anchors alongside Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah is a clear strength for the USMNT, and its physical edge against Mexico means we’ll definitely see it in big games. There are still a few minor points to work out—who’s the backup striker, who makes way for Christian Pulisic, how exactly does Gio Reyna wedge his way back into the team—though the big questions are more or less answered.
As the Jamaica draw shows, the USMNT is not some unstoppable juggernaut or anything, and they’re not always good enough to overcome the inherent vices of playing in CONCACAF. They probably should have lost against Jamaica, and they notably slowed down and moved backwards in the second half, probably because Berhalter was content with the draw. The general principle of win at home, draw on the road is no secret. But I’m not frazzled by any CONCACAF-grade silliness, not when the team as a whole and players like Weah specifically are so clearly coming into their own.