FRISCO, Texas – It took Walker Zimmerman three years to force his way into Oscar Pareja’s FC Dallas starting XI. Now that’s he’s there, the 23-year-old hopes a US national team look might be next.
Zimmerman was just 19 years old when he entered the league as the seventh-overall pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, and Dallas took their time blooding the youth national team captain.
The Furman alumnus made seven appearances his rookie season, then started nine in 2014 while battling injuries. But since the start of last year, Zimmerman’s wedged himself into Pareja’s consideration every week, making 20 appearances in 2015 before starting 13 of 16 games this season for second-place FC Dallas.
“Walker has had a terrific season so far,” Pareja told MLSSoccer.com. “I think he’s maturing in many areas of his game, and for me what I like to see the most is the approach he has with his character. He’s been great. He’s a player I can count on any day.”
Pareja was public about the fact Zimmerman’s health impended his progress early in his career. Still, he never gave up on his highly-touted defender – support Zimmerman justified by dedicating himself to his craft, both mentally and physically.
“This is a job we’re fortunate enough to have, and it’s only a limited amount of time,” Zimmerman said. “So to be able to make it last as long as possible, you need to strengthen every part of your game, including your mind.”
According to Pareja, the mental commitment to the game has just as much to do with Zimmerman’s ability to stay healthy as the physical side. He isn't the only one who's noticed, with recent rumors linking the young defender to Liga MX giants Club America.
“He has adapted himself to the load, and I have seen a character involved in that,” Pareja said. “It’s the willingness in him to get better. So I don’t see him anymore like a young guy – I see him as a guy that I can come with anytime.”
Though four seasons in the league give him plenty of professional experience to draw on, Zimmerman is still only 23 years old. And he has self-imposed lofty goals: catching Jurgen Klinsmann’s eye and playing at the next level.
Earlier this year, Zimmerman trained with the US U-23’s and was on the roster for the Olympic qualifier against Colombia, but didn’t see the field.
He said he received invaluable feedback from head coach Andy Herzog, showcasing his progression as a defender, on-field communicator and leader. Zimmerman still knows, however, there is plenty for him to keep refining in order to take another step. He must strengthen his left foot, get even better in the air, and become a potent threat on set pieces.
But similar to teammate Kellyn Acosta, priority No. 1 is continuing to meet Pareja’s expectations of consistency and dependability at the club level. The rest, as they say, will take care of itself.
“Just being able to train with [the U-23’s] and get positive feedback and get in front of their eyes again was a big step for me, to be seen at that level,” Zimmerman said. “So I think honestly it’s just continuing to play with confidence, continuing to play my style of soccer and FC Dallas’ style of soccer, and hopefully get noticed by those guys.”