Walker Zimmerman: “Whenever you get your chance, you got to be ready.” (Keith Furman/FrontRowSoccer Photo)
By Michael Lewis
To say that Walker Zimmerman was peeved would have been an understatement.
He just got off the phone with U.S. men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter, who had to give him some bad news in late September.
The Nashville SC all-star defender did not make roster for the October window for World Cup qualifying.
“I was certainly surely disappointed not to be called in in October,” Zimmerman said during a media Zoom call prior to Tuesday’s match in Jamaica. “I think just coming on the back of not playing in September, it was kind of like well, I didn’t really get a chance like let me prove to you that I can be a key player for this team. So, I was frustrated, for sure. We had a very honest conversation on the phone.
“Like any other player I was pissed, pretty disappointed. I said, ‘Okay, I’m just going continue to work.’ ”
Perhaps that karma traveled to Berhalter.
“He calls back 24 hours later,” Zimmerman said as he got some good news that he was on the team as Fulham center back Tim Ream had some personal things to take care of.
“Like hey, how quickly things change,” Zimmerman said. “Sounds good. I’ll be ready and then certainly just came in with the same mindset that a lot of our players have here, which is what makes this team special. Whenever you get your chance, you got to be ready.”
Zimmerman, the 2020 MLS defender of the year who is a finalist for this year’s award, was ready all right, playing in all three matches in October and then went the full 90 in the 2-0 victory over Mexico in Cincinnati on Friday night.
On Oct. 7, Zimmerman captained the side to a 2-0 win over Jamaica and then went the entire way in a 1-0 loss at Panama three days later. The USA rebounded with a 2-1 victory over Costa Rica on Oct. 13. Zimmerman came on for Brenden Aaronson in the 86th minute.
Berhatler said that putting together a roster, whether it’s 23 or 26 players, is difficult because so many factors enter into it, including what the opponent brings to the pitch.
“This is one of these difficult things when we’re plotting a roster for the window,” he said. “We’re very specific on what type of profiles we’re looking for, based on the opponent and based on what we’re looking to achieve it in against each opponent. It turned out in that one window [that]Walker wasn’t part of it. We had other guys that we thought were ahead of him at the time and, and we also were planning substitutes, and with the potential substitutions could bring for us.”
One of the Americans’ foes was Honduras, which has “really good transition speed,” Berhalter said. “So, we’re a little bit concerned about that.
“The conversation with Walker was, was really upfront and really open,” he added. “I said, ‘This is where we see you. This is how you’ve helped us in the past. We still see you know, bringing value to what we do from a leadership standpoint. We chose this direction, this window, but that doesn’t mean it’s permanent.’
“Walker was one of those guys that got his opportunity and really thrived and really played a great game against Jamaica in that first game, and then played a very solid game against Mexico as well. So really happy for Walker. He’s a great guy off the field. He’s a good veteran leader in this group. We really need him in terms of his performance. … He gives us a good aerial presence and does well in buildup and was able to defend transition moments really well.”
At 28, Zimmerman is one of the oldest USMNT players on the squad with many players in their early 20s performing for Euro sides.
Even though we may be young, there’s a lot of experience in the group,” Zimmerman said of the team. “It’s kind of fun even to say older guys because you look at the team and it’s looking at Zack [Steffen], DeAndre [Yedlin], myself is the older guys and we aren’t even 30. It’s tossed around like we’re old, but we’re still feeling great, in the prime of our careers.”