Wayward Weah: MNUFC's Prodigy Is Carving His Own Path

Photo credit: Seth Steffenhagen Photography

Minnesota United FC’s 17-year-old homegrown prospect, Patrick Weah, has been touted to make an impact in Major League Soccer this season. Weah, a familiar name in the American soccer scene, is as confident as they come. As a freshman in college this past year, Weah made three appearances for St. Louis University, scoring one goal during their shortened season due to COVID-19 this past February.

Before leaving for St. Louis, he played his high school soccer in Wayzata, where he stood out from the moment he stood on the pitch. He instantly became known as one of the top prospects in the country as a freshman in high school, where he led his teams in goals and assists, leading them to the state championship, where they ended as runners-up. As a sophomore, he again led his side in both goals and assists, but this time around, he led Wayzata to the winner’s podium.

Following his terrific 2017 season, Weah was voted the 2017 Minnesota State Player of the Year and named a 2017 United Soccer Coaches All-American as well.

He recently earned his U.S. citizenship, coming to the U.S. in 2011 with his mother and his two brothers from Liberia, where he was born and raised.

Growing up in Liberia, Weah played with teenagers and adults two, three, and even four times his age. Weah said his father always found time to train with him and often brought him to play with friends and community members who were far older, experienced, and much more talented than him at the time. However, learning to play at this level at such a young age proved to be the stepping stone Weah needed to foresee a future in the game, his father proving to be his inspiration.

Family has always been a constant in Weah’s life. His older brother Clarence was a talented footballer, and his father playing in the top professional league in Liberia. Weah’s lineage is often credited as one of the reasons he has been so successful. In 1995, USMNT player and current President of Liberia, George Weah, received the honorable Ballon D’or and was named FIFA World Player of the Year. George’s son, Timothy Weah, is a current USMNT player and is starring for Ligue 1 leaders, Lille, in France this season, scoring five goals and earning an assist in all competitions over 36 appearances.

It’s been noted and assumed by the entire American soccer community that Patrick is the nephew and cousin of George and Timothy, but Patrick confirmed to me Wednesday afternoon that he’s not actually related to them. At all.

Wait, what? You were under the impression that Patrick Weah was directly related to the great George Weah and is the cousin of current USMNT star Tim Weah? That’s fine. I think we all were.

In an exclusive interview with Patrick Wednesday afternoon, he clarified the confusion on his family’s lineage while opening up on who he thinks he is as a professional soccer player to me.

“You know the funny thing is I’m not, like, blood-related to them, at all, so like everyone thinks that. I just grew up in the family, like, my Weah family played soccer too,” he said. “My dad and George were like best friends, so we grew up playing together, and I played with George, but I never grew up with Timothy. Timothy was born in New York, and I was born in Liberia. We’re just like a family group that plays together. We call each other uncle and act like brothers and cousins, but we’re not actually related. We just have the same last name, which is like, ironic, but sure, everyone mixes it up.”

Patrick followed that up by dropping another bombshell: he has never actually met Timothy. They’ve only ever interacted through the knowledge of each other’s existence, and he even confirmed that they’re not actually close, at all.

“I never seen Timothy before, but like I said, I played with his daddy and my dad in Liberia before.”

Patrick’s family does have a unique relationship with George, however. Patrick sees him as an “uncle” due to the friendship with his father, but he’s also proved to be an inspiration for him; he credits the likes of George and other members of his Liberian community as a child for his growth as a player to this day.

“When I grew up, I would play with the older kids, and I would play with George to have like, the experience, to play with them. It was tough and physical, like, you gotta be quicker and sharper. Playing like that with them, it makes me more confident, and I play better. That environment to play in made me a better player but also, like, a better person.”

The irony is amusing to Patrick because even though George had an illustrious career full of awards and accolades, and Timothy is on his way to following his father’s footsteps, he thinks that he has what it takes to be the greatest-ever footballer with the last name Weah.

Weah mentioned this is “step one” of his career, and he is ready to leave his mark as one of the best young players the league has to offer.

Patrick said he earned the nickname “the Snake” in training because of how sneaky, tidy, and quick his feet are in the box. Weah said he’s studied the likes of Ronaldinho, Ronaldo Nazario, and Neymar on YouTube and matches on TV. He feels as if those three players, in particular, have not only shaped the way he plays but his mind as well — learning isn’t just watching how they play with the ball, but also how they play without it.

“I’m just into the visuals, the way they play, and I’m like, intrigued by their style of play,” he said. “It just fits my style, and they’re so entertaining to watch. Those kinds of people influence me as a soccer player because I want to be like them.”

Patrick said his style of play is best seen in 1-on-1 and even 1-on-2 situations where he is most comfortable. It becomes interesting at that point because most footballers tend to shy away from those situations and either circle back or shy away from the challenge. For Weah, it’s an opportunity that he will embrace every single time. When those challenges come, he feels most comfortable as a left-winger or as a centre-forward, but he’s open to playing on the right side of the pitch as well. Weah feels that his versatility as an attacker is one of his best attributes because no matter where he is up top, he feels like he is an instant threat to the opposing defense.

“They started calling me the snake because like a snake, they come and go,” he said, “and I do the elastico a lot like Ronaldinho — he did it the best.”

Some may say it was meant to be, some may say it is a coincidence, but his first-ever professional coach may be the perfect individual to bring out his talents as an attacker. Adrian Heath has long been dubbed “the striker whisperer” for his work with former MLS Golden Boot winner Cyle Larin.

Since then, Heath has helped develop Abu Danladi, who had a standout rookie season for MNUFC in 2017, and 2018 SuperDraft pick Mason Toye, who has since moved on to the Montreal Impact after a big-money move last summer. Heath now has the opportunity to work with the Loons’ all-time leading goalscorer from their academy, a challenge any head coach in MLS would be intrigued by. Weah said that even though it’s only been three months, Heath’s influence on him has been immense.

“Coach is always here giving me stuff to improve on or stuff to learn,” he said. “Coach is like, going to let you know if you’re messing up or doing something wrong, he will always tell me about it, and he will hold you accountable because he wants the best for you. At the end of the day, he may say something you don’t want to hear, but it’s for you to grow and learn, and he, like, wants that for you.”

It hasn’t just been Heath that has proved to be influential for Weah, however. The rostered players of Minnesota United have taken him in like a “brother,” with some going out of their way to show it, too.

MLS Veteran Ethan Finlay has come on as a mentor to Weah. Finlay has been willing to tell him what he’s doing right, what he’s doing wrong, and how he can improve as a whole. Weah said that Finlay has been one of the most influential players he has met so far, but if he were to single out one individual over the rest, it would be fellow newcomer Wil Trapp.

Wait, Wil Trapp? Yep, Wil Trapp.

“He’s been like a big brother to me, actually,” he said. “He drives me to practice and brings me back. He’s always a great human being on the field and outside of the field. Wil makes me a better human being first but also, like, a better soccer player. He helps me to try and improve my confidence, and he helps with me with my mind to, like, know things on the field and, like, me growing — it’s thanks to Wil Trapp.”

Weah mentioned the likes of Ozzie Alonso, Michael Boxall, and Jan Gregus being players who have taken time out of training or even after training to work with him and help him with certain things. However, his relationship with Trapp seems to be one of influence and brotherhood; a friendship on and off the pitch could prove wonders for a young kid like Weah’s confidence, too.

Weah’s confidence is already higher than most 17-year-old’s, though. Having just made his professional debut, Weah feels as if he’s reinvigorated and ready to tackle any challenge thrown at him.

“I’m here, I’m ready, and I want to play,” he said. “I wish I could have had more time to influence the game last weekend, but I am so happy for the moment. I remember it in my head for so long, like, I have rehearsed that situation and just like visualized it a lot, so when it actually happened, it was kind of just like, happening, it didn’t change anything, I knew I had time to play and maybe make a play on the field.”

Weah’s professional debut came in the 81st minute against Austin FC on Saturday, May 1st, with Weah getting a total of 14 minutes on the pitch, including extra time added at the end of the match. Moving forward, Weah said he wants to earn more minutes every match and prove to Heath that he should be considered off the bench and eventually as a first-team name written down 60 minutes before kickoff.

“My aspirations for this season is to play in 10 games and to score five goals and/or get five assists,” he said. “That’s my objective, and at the end of the season, I want to become a regular player. Some people might look at it and say it is not an achievable goal, but I only set goals like that because I know I can achieve it.”

Some might say that’s the attitude of a cocky teenager who has far too high of standards for himself. But hearing the way Weah spoke about his goals and aspirations, hearing the confidence in his voice, and knowing that he has these personal expectations, made me believe him. I don’t know if that’s because I’m rooting for him to succeed or if it’s because he genuinely influenced me, but I have never heard a single player speak with such confidence in their voice while being so relaxed at the same time. Weah seems determined; he seems as if he not only believes in himself but those around him, too.

His determination and confidence don’t deter him from an opponent, either. Weah said he wants to “play the best defenders and the best teams” in Major League Soccer, mentioning it’s one of the best ways to grow and to perform on the pitch. “For me, I’m like fearless, it doesn’t matter where I am going or who you are, you can be anybody, but I’m still going to play my game and do what I do; I look forward to playing in big games and taking on big opponents because they make me a better player, too.”

Weah reiterated that he owes his confidence and determination to his father and those who his father played with when he was a child in Liberia, mentioning that his neat footwork and patience on the ball also came from them.

However, Weah has the chance to learn from an individual who has earned a living with his tidy footwork and patience on the ball: MNUFC attacking midfielder Emanuel Reynoso.

Reynoso joined the Loons last September, instantly lighting up the league and eventually taking the Loons to dreamland with a monumental playoff run that ended in utter disarray following a game-winning goal with less than a minute left in the Western Conference Finals against the Seattle Sounders. Going into next season, pundits and media members across the league have touted Reynoso as a possible MVP candidate — the exact type of player that Weah feels he can learn from, on and off the pitch.

“Rey, man. I respect great game, man,” he said. “I think he might be the best player I have ever seen in person — and I mean that. He’s a really good human being on and off the field too, man. And actually, he lives like five minutes away from me, so like I hang out wit’ him and stuff, and like we go to dinner and practice and stuff.

“His skills are crazy though, man. It’s like, first he dodges everything and like, that’s such a special talent, man. Just saying that, me just saying it, that’s like — like the level I want to be above, you know that? You see, the way Rey plays, I wanna be able to do more than that. I don’t want to be on that level. I want to be better than that.”

Weah went on to say that Reynoso is not only his teammate and someone he learns from but also some he “definitely” looks up to. He feels that if he can learn to play like Reynoso and be patient, he can make his way to the top quicker.

Weah hasn’t forgotten his place, though. He still realizes he’s a kid and has a ton to learn from to make his way to the top. One of the biggest challenges for him so far has been Weah still realizing he’s 17 and is still allowed to be a kid in a world of professional adults.

He’s found a newfound appreciation for going live on Instagram with his teammates or with his brothers to stay in touch with those he befriended in high school and college. When going live on Instagram, Weah tends to be listening to music and answering questions from viewers. He also dances in the locker room with teammates or laughs and shares moments with the friends he’s made.

“The big part is me not being at school. That’s a way to, like, be social with my friends,” he said. “Because when I was in school, like, I wasn’t being on social media too much. So being out of school, I miss the social part of it. So like, not being with my friends to talk and socialize, that’s my way of like, connecting with them.”

However, Adulthood has caught up fast for Weah, with him finding newfound responsibilities and tasks that he’s never had presented to him before.

“Like, I never had a job before in my life,” he said. “This is my first job — and I’m getting money out of it. Like, I’ve never seen this much money before. Like, you got to learn how to figure out your money. You got to learn how to pay taxes and stuff. Like I have responsibilities now — I come to practice early, and if you don’t get if you don’t do the stuff you have to, you might get a fine, so like as a kid, I never needed to worry about that, and now I do.”

For Weah, he’s now attempting to find the balance between being a 17-year-old kid in the world of professional soccer where most of his opposition has years of experience on him. But he thinks he is catching on and adapting fast. He’s the “hometown kid” who has found love for the state of Minnesota, wanting to be part of the growth and influence of the game across the state.

“Before I came here from Liberia, the biggest sports were hockey, football, and basketball, and it was like soccer wasn’t getting enough attention,” he said. “Now, it’s like, BOOM man, like people are going to learn more about what soccer is, and like, it can be more popular in the U.S. In Minnesota, to see how soccer is growing, it means a lot to me. It’s like, obviously, I played my whole life. Now, people are trying to take it more seriously, and they’re giving you something to play for, not just for yourself, but for the fans, for the people supporting.”

The support Weah has received since signing his first professional contract in early March with the Loons has been one of the biggest reasons he has been pushing so hard, so fast. He feels that if everyone else believes him, nothing is stopping him from making his mark on the game on the world’s stage.

The confidence and determination from the 17-year-old Homegrown Academy Product seem to be special; it’s easy to see how much Weah wants to prove himself, on and off the pitch.

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