FRISCO, Tex. – As a boy, he watched the LA Galaxy on his television, saying they were the most prominent team featured in his home state of Georgia.
On Saturday, FC Dallas defender Walker Zimmerman was putting the nail in LA's Supporters' Shield coffin, scoring the game-winner in a 1-0 victory, boosting his own team's Shield credentials in the process.
“It was thrilling – still have some excitement left over. I can’t really slow my mind down right now,” Zimmerman said. “It was a massive three points for us. We know how long that goes – it goes a long way in the Supporters’ Shield Race.”
Zimmerman admitted this week that Saturday’s match, the first MLS regular-season meeting between Dallas and LA, held special significance, both on the emotional front getting to play against a team he grew up watching and on the practical front against a team who, with a win, could have really put a cramp into FC Dallas' quest for a second major trophy this year.
But it was the 23-year-old Lawrenceville, Georgia native who made sure the hosts only had to worry about Colorado in the Western Conference, connecting on a header from a Mauro Diaz corner kick – his fourth goal of the year, all coming from Diaz set pieces.
“That’s a lot of work on the practice field that comes to fruition out there,” Zimmerman said. “I think we’re definitely starting to build on that chemistry. It’s the first full season of us being back and forth and reading each other on where to go, and I think it’s working out very well. He hits a great ball.”
FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja confirmed Zimmerman’s words, saying his goal worked “exactly the way they wanted” based off how they practiced their set pieces this week.
It’s the development of Zimmerman’s offensive game that, according to Pareja, is making him a force to be reckoned with.
“Walker has understood this year what it takes to be at that level,” Pareja said. “The best part is that he has been consistent with his performances. I think physically and mentally he has shown a lot of growth, and then beginning to stack games where he steps up not just defending but helping us get points up front with that aerial game that he has and dominates.
“It just makes him a very complete player.”
In addition to fending off the Galaxy in the Shield race, securing three points at home gives Dallas one of two first-round byes in the West come playoff time at the end of the month.
It’s only fitting, coming in a game Pareja said carried a playoff-like atmosphere, and finishing in a way Zimmerman described as a “good building block” for them as they push toward the playoffs – referencing how the team buckled down when LA threw numbers forward for much of the second half.
But he said the team isn’t done yet. Depending on how Colorado performs this week – with two games while FC Dallas has the week off – the final two games of the season could be crucial in terms of accomplishing something they came just a tie-breaker away from winning last year.
“We just don’t want to be second best to anyone,” Zimmerman said. “It’s the mentality we have in this locker room, and it’s reflected down from leadership and our coaching staff. We hate losing. That’s the culture here. We love winning, so that mentality is hopefully what’s going to take us to the top of MLS and be a mainstay there at the top of the league each year.”