Walker Zimmerman (25) battles for position against Colorado Rapids forward Jonathan Lewis (7) on a set piece last month. (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

If you’re playing the backline, the last thing you want to do is have a communication problem with a fellow defender or goalkeeper.

And the last thing you want to do is communicating with your hands, as in pointing your fingers at teammates – or them at you – while the keeper takes the ball out of the net.

As a top-flight center back for Nashville SC, Walker Zimmerman knows that all too well. Getting the message across to teammates and having the right chemistry can go a long way.

“It’s really important,” Zimmerman said during a U.S. men’s national team Zoom media call on Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t think it’s the end-all formula for success, but I think that having a chemistry in more than just with your center back partner but with the entire back four, your goalkeeper and especially the defensive mids in front of you. It is very important to have that relationship and have an understanding whether it’s from a tactical point of view or communication point of view.”

The two-time MLS defender of the year remembered when he hammered iron out some communication issues with USMNT keepers Matt Turner and Zack Steffen two years ago when they were defending crosses. They used some words, but it got confusing.

“I’m like, well, sometimes we’re facing different directions, give us a clear thing,” he said. “We sorted out the language that we wanted to use in a specific situation that was ultimately clear. It’s just like little things like that that you have to do all over the pitch to figure out.”

The Americans like to use a high press on defense. If both center backs decide to go up at the same time, they could cause some trouble.

“If a center forward is checking, back into the midfield and both of the center backs, kind of start going with him because they’re not clear,” Zimmerman said. “All of a sudden if you have both of them stepping higher with all the space behind with no one to cover. That’s a situation where you need to know exactly who’s stepping, who’s covering in that given moment. That’s an elementary type example of the ways that communication is important, but that’s an ideal example of how communication and a high line can become a factor.”

And speaking of chemistry among center backs, that could be a challenge for Zimmerman or whoever plays in the middle of the backline in the World Cup in Qatar, starting in November.

The USMNT has used 14 center back combinations the past two years. Zimmerman and Red Bulls defender Aaron Long, who is in camp in Germany for the two World Cup warm-up matches, have played together several times.

“It is helpful that these guys do have experience playing games, whether it’s with each other or not, Zimmerman said. “They’ve gotten a taste of qualifying, gotten that kind of experience. None of us have a lot of World Cup experience and people can kind of hit on us for that or think that is a disadvantage, but I also know how eager we are to get out there and prove to people you know what we have in this group.

Tuesday was the first day in of training for the squad, talking about different situations, Zimmerman said.

“Those are the kinds of practices that we’re going to need to make sure you’re on the same page as a back four come November,” he added.

The Americans will meet Japan in Dusseldorf, Germany on Friday and Saudi Arabia in Murcia, Spain on Tuesday, Sept. 27. Due to World Cup qualifying, the USA has been on a virtual Concacaf diet of matches for a good portion of the past two years.

“I thought that June friendlies were a very good opportunity for us to have experience against Morocco [and] Uruguay, faced some different types of teams, different level competition I thought we handled really well in June. These are two more games to get valuable experience to prepare for the teams and the types of players you might find in the World Cup.

“We can’t control the opponent. But there’s certainly ways that we can improve whether it’s Concacaf a or European friendly. We’re looking at these two games certainly as building blocks to play against some really good competition and make sure that we’re fine tuning what we need to do heading into November.”