Postcard from Europe: Zimmerman moves down the road
AMSTERDAM — Tired of swimming against the tide at nearby Mainz 05, fresh Darmstadt catch Preston Zimmerman is content to chase his Bundesliga dream one stride at a time.
Though his year-and-a-half on the books at Mainz II got better as it went along, the 22-year-old never dressed for a first team enjoying the best top-flight season in club history.
As Mainz were finishing fifth in the Bundesliga, Zimmerman ended the Regionalliga West term as joint-top scorer on the reserves with seven goals in 29 outings. In all, he bagged 10 in 44 Mainz II league matches during his time there, including six in his last nine starts.
Mainz offered an extension to his expiring contract, but it was not enough to keep the 2007 U-20 World Cup veteran from looking elsewhere for a first-team place.
"I was frustrated that I never really got a fair look at moving up," Zimmerman told MLSsoccer.com by phone from back home in Washington. "There was an opportunity [to stay at Mainz], but it wasn't on the terms I wanted. They wanted me to be a backup and I didn't want to be that anymore. But they helped me with the move and there's no hard feelings."
Other than his club affiliation, it isn't much of a move. Mainz and Darmstadt would be heated derby rivals in the same division, meaning Zimmerman gets to keep life off the field constant.
"It's only about 30 minutes away," he noted. "I feel comfortable [there]."
While he's no longer at a club with immediate Bundesliga potential, Zimmerman is now happy be back in the German third flight for the first time since leaving Hamburg II in 2008. Mainz II played in the fourth tier, while Darmstadt won promotion to the 3.Bundesliga as Regionalliga Süd champs.
"The teams in the first and second league always send [scouts] down there," offered Zimmerman. "Most of the players that move up come from this league. Obviously, I'd have loved to move up a little higher, but it's fine to go step-by-step like this, too. I've seen players play 25 or 30 games [at this level] and go up."
The new master of Zimmerman's ambitions is another up-and-comer — Darmstadt manager Kosta Runjaic just turned 40 this week.
"He's a young coach and I feel like he's going to continue to move up," said Zimmerman. "I want to be a part of that."
Runjaic took plenty of time to sell the American on joining Die Lilien, who won the Regionalliga Süd crown despite finishing just seventh in goals scored.
"The coach contacted me about a few months ago and showed genuine interest in me," said Zimmerman. "When we met up, I liked him and had a good gut feeling about the whole thing.He watched me for a year, nearly every game. I feel like he knows me better than any of the other coaches on teams I could have gone to. He kept coming after me and, obviously, it feels good when someone does that."
Having played forward, both wings and even right back during this past season with Mainz II, Zimmerman brings the rep of an attack handyman with him to Darmstadt. It might bug others not to have a direct assignment from the new boss, but the American sees no reason to gripe about it.
"It's kind of wide open, but I'm fine with that," declared Zimmerman. "I like being the guy who can play any of those positions — as long as I'm on the field."