Has anyone done more to improve his stock with the United States men’s national team over the last 18 months than Walker Zimmerman? There’s no one clearly above him. The Nashville SC stalwart was in and out of the Yanks’ lineup for years before asserting himself as the captain of the 2021 Gold Cup squad. Since helping lift the trophy in Las Vegas last summer, he’s been an indispensable part of the team.
As it turns out, Zimmerman’s contributions have stabilized a weak spot for the USMNT. While I do believe the least options exist for the team in defensive midfield, center back hasn’t been too far behind. Injuries to Miles Robinson and Chris Richards, alongside the exile of John Brooks, would’ve been felt much harder if not for Zimmerman being a constant as one half of the starting pair that’s the last line of defense. Turns out that as solid as Zimmerman is on the pitch, he might be even better off of it, as evidenced by this Washington Post feature.
After Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams, there might not be a bigger lock to start in Qatar than Zimmerman. Of the American-based players picked to the 26-man roster, he was the easiest to predict. He’s the seamless combination of the right and easy move for the team. He’s menacing on the field and has a unique ability to lead at the club and international levels. Nothing about Zimmerman’s game is pretty. He’ll do the grunt work while others get the glory by scoring goals. Yet, if the USMNT wins a knockout game in Qatar, it’s not likely to happen without Zimmerman’s contributions.
“Excited to test myself against anyone,” Zimmerman told Deadspin after the World Cup roster was revealed on Nov. 8. “It’s an amazing opportunity to perform on the biggest stage and it’s something I feel like I’ve always been made for and destined to be a part of. I’m just looking forward to proving that.”
The biggest weakness for Zimmerman will be his lack of a consistent partner in the back. An underrated part of soccer is having a consistent pairing in front of the goalkeeper. While Zimmerman has had one of the two spots locked down for a majority of World Cup qualifying, beside him have been Robinson, Brooks, Richards, Sam Vines, Mark McKenzie, and Aaron Long. That’s not exactly ideal consistency. And early reports have shown Tim Ream getting an early lead to start in Qatar. While that might be best for the USMNT overall, with Antonee Robinson being the likely starter at left back, quickly building chemistry with Zimmerman will be an uphill battle.
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The left side being occupied by Fulham teammates, ones that helped the team win promotion to the Premier League last season, is a phenomenal choice should Berhalter go forward with it. Ream and Zimmerman play a similar style where both are likely to fail or succeed against the same opponents. Both are great in the air and don’t mind staying back to defend, even if everyone else is pushing forward for a goal. The exception to that would be on set pieces, when it’s typical for taller center backs to try and win headers.
If it sounds like Zimmerman has a lot of pressure on him in the World Cup, it’s because he does. It’s also because Berhalter has shown no hesitation in giving him responsibility. He’s been the face of Nashville SC since the club entered Major League Soccer and now, he’s one of the can’t-miss faces of the USMNT.
“It’s funny because there’s the whole narrative because of how young this team is, that (at age) 29, you’re a veteran,” Zimmerman said. “(I’m) 29? I’m a center back. I’m trying to make more than one World Cup. I’m at a really good age right now, sure. But I don’t think we’re near being done.”
That mindset is why Zimmerman has become a leader for his club and country. Should the USA not win a game in Qatar, his sturdy place in the team will absolutely come into question. If Zimmerman holds up to expectations, he’ll have an inside track to the dream he mentioned above, starting a World Cup on home soil in 2026. But first comes beating Wales on Monday.