CARSON, Calif. – It was among the more perplexing moves of MLS's offseason, but Walker Zimmerman wasn't surprised when he was told he'd been traded from FC Dallas to newcomers LAFC, and he wasn't displeased.
The 24-year-old center back sees it as an opportunity for a fresh start, as something that will help propel him to bigger and better things, and that includes what's hopefully coming up in 2022 for the US national team.
Zimmerman, who with Matt Hedges formed one of the league's finest tandems in central defense, said he knew something was afoot after a disappointing campaign last season. He'd struggled to find form and saw his minutes reduced after a strained medial collateral ligament in late May forced him to sidelines for more than a month – he started just eight of 16 league games after returning in early July – as FC Dallas skidded from the top of the standings to out of the playoffs.
“I think the more the season progressed, the more the writing was on the wall,” Zimmerman said following Thursday's opening training session at the US national team's annual January camp at StubHub Center. “Just from a playing standpoint, it started becoming in and out of the lineup, and our form kind of fell off a little bit.
“It was a combination of things. The injury, the lack of success on the team level, and it was just an opportunity where they're rebuilding a little bit, and it provided an opportunity for me to kind of get a fresh start on my career, as well.”
Zimmerman, who spent five years with Dallas, says he never lost confidence but didn't find his best form when he was back. He knew in December that “something was up” and “kept hearing different things, and it finally came out that it was LAFC.” The expansion club sent to Dallas $250,000 in General Allocation Money, $250,000 in Targeted Allocation Money, and swapped spots in the Allocation Order in a deal last month.
“I was extremely pleased,” he said. “Seems like a great club, they're doing everything the right way. They're making it really exciting to be part of that program.”
Zimmerman met LAFC head coach Bob Bradley for the first time a couple of weeks ago, when he was in Los Angeles to scout for a new home – he and his wife found an apartment in Santa Monica – and prepare for this next stage in his life and career.
“I really loved his enthusiasm, his charisma about the opportunity we have in LA to create this culture together,” Zimmerman said. “His pitch was one of capturing the heart of the city, representing the city and [our] fans. ... Everyone around the whole whole club is just so enthusiastic about this opportunity, and as a player, that's all you can ask for.”
He's already in SoCal – his wife will arrive in a few weeks – for the national team camp, and he's aiming to become a fixture for the US. He's been capped once, going 90 minutes in the 1-0 victory over Jamaica in Chattanooga, Tenn., at the end of last year's January camp, and wants more.
“Every time you wear this jersey, it's an honor and it's an opportunity ...,” he said. “[The 2022 World Cup] is on my mind. That's one of the things with the national team: You can never take any camp, any practice, any game for granted. You have to make the most of it.
“You have to have the mindset that the next cycle, it starts now. It doesn't start with qualifying [in 2020], it starts now. That's my mentality: use each and every day to impress, to find form and get fit before club season, and go from there and try to make the next camp and then the next one after that and get to where it's impossible for them not to call you back.”