CARSON, Calif – For Walker Zimmerman, the circumstances of this January US national team camp make it true launching point for the rest of his career.
The 23-year-old, who captained the US U-18 team at the 2011 Milk Cup but is awaiting his first cap with the senior team, has a lot of work ahead of him to complete that jump to the next level. He seemed comfortable with that increased level of competition talking after practice on Wednesday.
“I think for me [it's] just my competitive nature,” said Zimmerman of his transition to the USMNT camp, “to try and live up the competition that I’m playing with and that’s the mentality of everyone here. You just raise your game when you’re playing with players who have elevated theirs.
“For me it’s just been fun to see things in myself just from being around better competition. To see that improvement and see that growth is definitely important for the growth of my career.”
The likelihood of Zimmerman getting a run out in the upcoming friendlies, Sunday against Serbia in San Diego (4 pm ET; ESPN2) and against Jamaica in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Feb. 3, increased when his teammate and 2016 MLS Defender of the Year Matt Hedges returned to FC Dallas with a knee sprain. There’s still plenty of talent at center back in camp with Chad Marshall and Steve Birnbaum, but it’s quite likely Zimmerman will get to make his senior international debut.
Zimmerman is one of a handful of MLS players in January camp who are getting their first look at the national team level thanks to new head coach Bruce Arena. So far, Zimmerman has liked the feedback he’s been getting.
“They’ve been very positive with everyone here,” said Zimmerman. “Obviously giving you the criticisms that you need but at the same time really crediting you for the whole body of work you put in the whole last season.”
When asked about what specific criticisms he’s gotten and what he’s working on at camp, Zimmerman said, “I’m working on my entry passes into the midfielders and the forwards. Just working on passing between the lines and trying to go forward as quickly as possible and just being precise on those kind of passes.”
When he finishes with the national team and heads back to FC Dallas, he and Hedges will anchor one of the best defenses in MLS on a team that came close to pulling off the domestic treble last season. After finishing fourth in MLS Defender of the Year voting, Zimmerman has lofty aims for 2017.
“[Defender of the Year]’s obviously a goal. Just to have a good season last year and hopefully build off of that this season and have even more success this year.
“Obviously I’m more concerned about MLS Cup, that’s the one trophy that kind of eluded us last year, but as a personal goal I think that’s something I definitely have my eyes on,” he added.