Walker Zimmerman returns to LA for MLS All-Star Game with a "bit of bite"

LOS ANGELES – For center back Walker Zimmerman, there are more than a few reasons why the 2021 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target carries added significance.

The 2020 MLS Defender of the Year will soon become the first player to represent second-year expansion club Nashville SC in an All-Star Game. And for Zimmerman, it will also be a homecoming of sorts.

On Tuesday, the 28-year-old trained at LAFC's Performance Center for the first time since he was traded only months after he played a key role in the Black & Gold winning the 2019 Supporters' Shield with a record-setting points haul (72).

"This was a place I called home for a few years. Being back this facility seeing all the technical staff and all the people behind the scenes that you miss, it was great running back into them for the first time in a while," Zimmerman said after training ahead of Wednesday's All-Star Game (9 pm ET | FS1, Univision in US; TSN, TVA Sports in Canada).

There were more than recognizable surroundings at play. Zimmerman once again found himself under the direction of Bob Bradley, his former LAFC coach and this year's MLS All-Star coach. And he was sharing the training field with former teammates Diego Rossi and Eduard Atuesta.

"It was great seeing Eduard and Diego," Zimmerman said. "And then you have the guys who aren’t involved, but were obviously teammates of mine the past couple of years. It's just been a long time, and a lot of things have taken place over the past couple of years so to see them again, give him a big hug, big smile — once you’re a teammate you kind of have that bond for life.

Atuesta and Rossi weren't the only familiar faces. Just a month removed from being part of the US men's national team squad that lifted the Gold Cup in thrilling fashion with victory over Mexico in the final, Zimmerman was back alongside several of his teammates from that memorable summer. Given the limited preparation time for the All-Star team, that existing familiarity could be useful come kickoff on Wednesday.

"Certainly in the past couple of years, there’s been a real bond between those guys, especially the ones who got to lift a trophy just a few weeks ago," Zimmerman said. "And so they all get to see each other again and reminisce on some stories from Gold Cup and that just helps with team chemistry."

That the Liga MX All-Stars feature several players who lost to the US in the Gold Cup and Concacaf Nations League finals also means added motivation will be in strong supply.

"You have guys who just competed in recent finals over the past couple of months, so you've run into them before and, you know you're gonna see them again tomorrow night," added Zimmerman. "They’re obviously going to take it very seriously, it's bragging rights between the leagues. And so there's a lot at stake tomorrow. And I know our guys are going to be up for it and, yes while it’s fun, I'm sure there's gonna be a little bit of bite to it."