BLAINE, Minn. – The working assumption, health permitting and given his importance to the program over the past year, is that Walker Zimmerman will be in the starting XI when the US men’s national team begins Group B play on Nov. 21 against Wales at the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
But that doesn’t make the Nashville SC center back any less antsy for what awaits.
“It honestly is really difficult to not get ahead of yourself,” Zimmerman said on The Call Up’s live episode as 2022 MLS All-Star Week gets underway. “But you know if you really take a step back and think about it, the best way to prepare for Qatar is to prepare every day and every game with your club team. It's not always easy.
“Certainly there are times where you let yourself, 'Oh wow we're almost 100 days out. Who's counting?' I promise you someone just informed me, I was not counting. It certainly seeps in every now and then.”
The 29-year-old has become a key piece for the USMNT, featuring in 10 World Cup qualifiers as they returned to the World Cup by finishing third in the Concacaf Octagonal behind Canada and Mexico. He wasn’t in their first qualifying window (September 2021), but turned his chance into arguably being irreplaceable and prompting still-unanswered questions of who he’ll partner with after Atlanta United’s Miles Robinson suffered a ruptured left Achilles tendon in early May.
Make no mistake: Zimmerman’s rise is a direct byproduct of his form with Nashville SC, who rewarded him with a Designated Player contract in late April. That followed back-to-back MLS Defender of the Year awards (2020-21), becoming the third player in league history to win the award in consecutive seasons, following in the footsteps of Carlos Bocanegra (2002-03, Chicago Fire FC) and Chad Marshall (2008-09, Columbus Crew).
Asked what he’s most proud of when receiving that recognition – which follows his 2013 introduction to MLS with FC Dallas and previous time at LAFC, leading to 210 regular-season appearances – Zimmerman had a simple answer.
“I think the consistency piece,” he remarked to co-hosts Susannah Collins and Jillian Sakovits. “I think never being satisfied with kind of where you are. The first step you make from a rookie is, 'Okay can I see the field? You get on the field, now can I be a starter? Now can I be an All-Star and Defender of the Year?' The hard thing is – I told Sally my wife, as soon as I won in 2020, I was like, 'There's no time to celebrate. I want to win this thing again.'
“It's never being content with what you've accomplished. Maybe recognizing it a little bit, but not being content with it. I think that carries over into the national team and performances there. There's a time and a place where I can sit back and reflect on it, but it's not right now, it's not in the present. I'm focusing on how can I keep getting better and chase these other dreams.”
All the while, Zimmerman is a three-time MLS Best XI honoree (2019-21) and competing in his third All-Star Game presented by Target (2019, ‘21, ‘22).
The latter portion gives Zimmerman experience with facing Liga MX, Wednesday night’s opponent for the MLS All-Stars at Minnesota United FC's Allianz Field (8:30 pm ET | ESPN, Univision in US; TSN, TVA Sports in Canada), whereas in 2019 they faced LaLiga’s Atletico Madrid. And he feels the competition is only increasing between the rival leagues, spanning into the international arena and club competitions like Concacaf Champions League and Leagues Cup.
“Since changing to the Liga MX, that's been a different feel as well just in terms of the competition – it's more of a real game,” Zimmerman said, with MLS beating Liga MX on penalty kicks in 2021. “Not that we weren't taking anything else less seriously, but I think there was a tackle early on in the last game that we played in and you felt it take it up a notch.
“All of the past Mexico-US rivalry and what that means on the international stage and now you look at the Sounders winning Champions League. Any time you play Mexico in anything there's going to be a little bit of something extra.”
For more All-Star week interviews, check out The Call Up’s live episode here.