Walker Zimmerman: The Anchor
By Lucas Panzica (@lucaspanzica), staff writer.
Just under three weeks away from their first MLS match, Nashville Soccer Club made their first blockbuster trade as an MLS franchise, acquiring center back Walker Zimmerman from Los Angeles FC for up to $1.25 million in allocation funds and an international roster spot.
In a defining move for the franchise, Zimmerman will be an essential piece of what the club is trying to build. The 26-year-old 2019 MLS All-Star and Best XI defender will anchor the middle of Gary Smith’s four-man back line, alongside a fellow US Men’s National Team defender in left back Daniel Lovitz.
It is also a move that brings the Georgia native closer to home. In July of 2019, ahead of a USMNT fixture against Jamaica in the Gold Cup, Zimmerman joined 104.5 The Zone’s Midday 180 and was asked about Nashville’s future as an MLS city:
“I’m really excited for Nashville to be a part of Major League Soccer, I think you can just look at the support we have when we have a friendly game in Nashville,” said Zimmerman.
“The sports fandom is definitely here, it’s alive and well in Nashville, so I’m looking forward to seeing that firsthand Wednesday night, and then even more so next year when they get an MLS team.”
Fast-forward about six months, and Zimmerman is now a player on that MLS team. “NASHVILLE. I couldn’t be more excited to meet you,” posted Zimmerman on his Instagram account on Wednesday. My wife and I have already been overwhelmed by the support that you have shown us in the past 48 hours. I can’t wait to match your passion and give you all I have on and off the pitch. Let’s make some history.”
After a playing career at Furman University, Zimmerman was a first-round pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft to FC Dallas, and slowly but surely was introduced to professional soccer. Zimmerman appeared in just seven games during his rookie season but saw that number increase to 30 games by the time he hit his fourth season in Dallas in 2016.
Another positive for Nashville SC fans to consider is that this move brings in a player who knows what it's like to play for an expansion side. Zimmerman was traded from Dallas to Los Angeles in 2018, fitting in immediately as a starting center back while LAFC navigated its inaugural season. With 12 appearances for the USMNT since 2017, Zimmerman has also established himself as a key cog on the international scene and could very well be a significant part of the future for USA.
A player that has been on Nashville SC’s radar for quite some time, Zimmerman commands the back line with an aerial presence that can win headers in the box with his 6-foot-3 frame. A pure defender with good instincts and ability to begin link-up play with short passes, Zimmerman’s relationship with defensive midfielder and fellow MLS veteran Dax McCarty will be crucial to Nashville SC’s success.
The hope for most fans heading into the upcoming season is that Nashville SC starts red-hot, playing an inspiring brand of soccer that produces wins with high-scoring results. The reality is that a club looking to find its way must first and foremost solidify the defensive end. Almost providing insurance, in case the previously stated scenario does not play out. This could mean the difference between 2-0 losses and 0-0 draws. If attackers such as Daniel Ríos and Abu Danladi burst onto the scene with high-end production, it could mean the difference between 0-0 draws and 3-1 victories.
Nashville and Gary Smith have not finalized who their most reliable attacker will be, a quality that may not be determined until after the first couple of months into the MLS campaign. They have, however, established their core group in the defensive third. That stems from Zimmerman, who at this moment in time could very well be considered the face of the franchise.