Things move quickly in soccer.
Not just between the white lines when a winger is blowing by a fullback or a defending team springs into attack in a flash, but off the field, too. LAFC didn't plan to move on from stalwart center back Walker Zimmerman, but after swift negotiations with Nashville SC, the USMNT center back is headed to the expansion club in a league-record deal for a defender.
“It wasn’t necessarily in our plans, but we always have to evaluate these things," LAFC EVP & GM John Thorrington told MLSsoccer.com. "These decisions are incredibly hard. I certainly don’t ask for empathy, because it’s hardest as a player. I’m sensitive to that from moving clubs throughout my career. It was an incredibly hard decision not just because of what Walker does on the field but off the field."
Zimmerman was a foundational piece for LAFC, who enjoyed great success in their first two seasons in MLS, including a Supporters' Shield and league-record for points in a season in 2019. In those two years, Zimmerman was a constant force in central defense, starting 51 games as he grew in importance with the US men's national team.
He was named a 2019 MLS Best XI member while being voted second in MLS Defender of the Year, but the flexibility that comes with a deal that could see up to $1.25 million in allocation money head to LAFC was ultimately too lucrative for the club to ignore.
“The variables you have to take into account given that these are not easy shoes to fill, Walker has been a big part of what we’ve done," Thorrington said. "But you have to take into account what we have now. We feel like we have players here who will be given more opportunities, as Walker started the majority of our games. Then you have to look at what options these assets open up for us. With a deal that is the biggest for a defender in our league’s history, those variables come into account and you have to talk it through."
That flexibility gives LAFC ample opportunity to dip back into the market for another addition, but it's not something the club will guarantee.
“We’re not desperate to make a move now, but if the right option presents itself, we have the budget flexibility and roster flexibility to move," Thorrington said.
Part of that calculus is the players already on the squad.
Eddie Segura was fifth in 2019 Defender of the Year voting, not far behind his former center back partner. The club have high hopes for him to continue developing and to take on more responsibility. As for who becomes his partner, at the moment, it's between Dejan Jakovic, Danilo Silva and Tristan Blackmon, a player the club are also very high on.
“We feel like we have a group of center backs – Tristan is certainly at the forefront of that conversation," Thorrington said. "We are very optimistic about his future, he’s shown he certainly belongs as a player in our league and will develop into an elite player. Jordan Harvey can also play center back, Dejan Jakovic has had a very good preseason, we have Danilo Silva returning from injury and of course we have Eddie Segura returning this week.”
Blackmon was ostensibly slated to start at right back this season but has played center back this preseason while Zimmerman was on national team duty before his trade.
Still, the deal wasn't made flippantly. Zimmerman will always be a part of LAFC's history, something that Nashville will hope to follow.
“It’s ironic, we were in Nashville's position two years ago when we made a big push to make Walker a big piece for us, which he was for two years," Thorrington said. “It’s a huge compliment to Walker that Nashville valued him so highly, I know he’s going to do great for them. He’ll be a big part of their club as he had been for us.”