Last offseason, more than a year before Nashville SC were set to play their inaugural game and long before they were sure exactly who would populate their roster, they started asking LAFC about Walker Zimmerman.
Nothing came of it, but they weren't deterred nor rushing to other targets. They wanted Zimmerman, but patiently continued building their roster, acquiring key players like Dax McCarty, Hany Mukhtar and others, while continuing to preserve flexibility.
As Nashville GM Mike Jacobs and LAFC EVP & GM John Thorrington stayed in contact over potential deals throughout the year, the expansion club saw an opening this week.
"When (Thorrington) told me he’d consider the idea of moving Walker, it was an opportunity for us to jump on," Jacobs told MLSsoccer.com. "We were saving this war chest up of allocation money for a player like Walker.”
That war chest, it turns out, would be an initial $950,000 in General Allocation Money with the potential to rise to $1.25 million in incentives. The deal surpasses Minnesota United's deal to acquire Ike Opara last year both up front and in incentives, which was the previous record for a defender.
Given Zimmerman's pedigree — a two-time Supporters' Shield winner, 2019 Best XI honoree, second in 2019 MLS Defender of the Year voting with 140 MLS appearances and 10 USMNT caps while just entering his prime at 26-years-old — Nashville had no hesitation in completing the deal.
“Out of domestic players in our league, Walker was the one we were steadfast in trying to pursue," Jacobs said. “When you look at every team that has success in Major League Soccer, they’ve had a lynchpin in the back. The combination of Walker’s form, athletic attributes and his age, this was a no-brainer.”
“The idea was we made an offer that they couldn’t really walk away from," Jacobs added.
Zimmerman becomes Nashville's defensive anchor, the leader of an impressive defensive unit that includes USMNT left back Daniel Lovitz as well as MLS veteran defensive midfielders McCarty and Anibal Godoy. Alongside center backs Dave Romney and Jalil Anibaba plus goalkeeper Joe Willis, Nashville's defensive core is filled with MLS experience.
That, obviously, is not an accident.
"All along, we’ve stressed the importance on meaningful MLS experience," Jacobs said. "When I say meaningful, I don’t just mean logging minutes. I mean guys who came from really strong teams and played big roles. Guys like Walker, like Dax come from teams that win all the time. You bring people that expect to win and behave a certain way, that’s going to permeate throughout our team."
Nashville now are up to 26 players on their inaugural roster and, even after parting with up to $1.25 million GAM and an international spot, flexibility is not lost.
The club still have at least one Designated Player slot open, pending whether Randall Leal joins Mukhtar as a DP or not, as well as the No. 1 spot in the Allocation Order.
“We’re just not going to make this a race to see how many players we can acquire by the start of the regular season," Jacobs said. "Until we kick a ball in MLS to confirm what we have and don’t have, we have to maintain flexibility to improve our roster. This is going to be a slow burn from a standpoint of completing our roster. Our hope isn’t to see how fast we can sign 30 players or spend all of our allocation money, our goal is to build a roster that has sustained success not only this season, but the future as well.”