Nashville SC

Walker Zimmerman in GIFs

You may recall a special January edition of Boys in Not Gold a few weeks back (hopefully that’s less a “special edition” as Nashville players continue to earn national team call-ups), wherein winger Randall Leal played against the United States Men’s National team.

#DidYouKnow that centerback Walker Zimmerman also participated in that game? Well, he did!

Since I never broke down his game at the time of his initial signing, let’s use that 1-0 win for the Nats to look at some aspects for Zimmerman’s style – and quality – of play.

Aerial threat/set piece weapon

I mentioned earlier this week that his offensive production for LAFC took a major step back in 2019. While I haven’t had the chance to look at the empirical data, my speculation is that the team simply had so many other offensive weapons that Bob Bradley didn’t need to activate Zimmerman on set pieces to have a ludicrously productive offense.

If Carlos Vela’s putting in 34 goals (and – checks notes – he was!), there’s less need to bring your centerback into the offensive half on corner kicks, tiring him out on his runs back.

The United State has no such player, so Zimmerman got to show off his set piece chops against the Ticos:

moreheaders
Glances this one wide
offbalanceheader
Missed the far post here, too, but Mark McKenzie alllllmost kept in in play nonetheless.
headback
Has to make a big adjustment to mediocre service here, but manages to keep the play alive for his team.
cornerflickon
This was a set play designed to punish Costa Rica for overcompensating for his aerial ability, giving him a flick-on that didn’t come off.
headeronline
This is sort of bad service, but he keeps the ball in play and very nearly gets an assist out of it.

Reactions, tackling, and positioning

Of course, you don’t sign a centerback because you think he’s going to score a bunch of goals. You sign him to prevent the opposition from doing the same. He’s a good player in the settled defense, thanks to the things that are typically important at the position: reacting to the ball once it’s played by the opposition, his sheer size and positioning, and the bravery to get in and make a tackle.

reactionheader
Not the toughest play he’s made, nor the best header, but he reacted to the initial ball well.
recoverytackle
He stands his ground, marking a man. Then he reacts quickly enough to break up the attack.
makebig
This is a brutal defensive play by Brenden Aaronson (he may still be running somewhere out there), but Zimmerman is in good position to make himself big and force the shooter to put the ball off-frame.

Technical ability

Zimmerman actually had a lot of opportunity on the ball against Costa Rica, with the USMNT intent on playing it out of the back, Costa Rica mostly willing to engage near the midfield line, and lots of passing around the back and between the CBs/central midfielders.

Not all of these clips are from those situations, but a couple things I noticed.

shimmy
The nature of a GIF is that you can’t quite see the shoulder shimmy that throws off the Costa Rican player in the high press, but you can tell by the way that guy is sent totally the wrong way. Zimmerman gives himself a lot more time on the ball than the pass gave him.
chesttrap
Uh, he’s not a technically perfect player, by any stretch.

He was tasked mostly with making easy passes, so “lots of time on the ball” did not translate to “interesting clips.”

Motor and speed

The – justified – book on Zimmerman is that he’s a pretty good technical player, a very good aerial threat, and quite big. If he had Aaron Long’s natural athleticism, English Premier League clubs would be making the same offers (or better, perhaps) for him that they do for Long.

He’s not going to win a ton of foot-races, nor is he the fastest to get moving. Once he does get going, though, he uses his long frame to make up ground quickly.

wheels
He comes from the upper-middle portion of the screen here and makes the tackle.
volleythensprint
He’s chasing the initial ball-carrier, gets into position quickly, and then sinks to his defensive shape.

The initial quickness (or comparative lack therefore) sometimes comes into play in one-v-one defending, as well, but part of the reason he’s able to be a weapon on set pieces is that the counter-attack opportunities provided by tossing a CB forward are mitigated by the same player’s ability to recover.

Wherein he gets kicked in the face

I initially started clipping this to show off a pretty impressive bit of physicality – he’s not going to be bodied by a winger, by any stretch – but then Manfred Uglade seems to throw an intentional boot directly into his face.

It became less about the soccer and more about the cinema for me, I’d say.

myface
Doesn’t react well to getting kicked in the face. 0/10 would not sign.

Against MLS competition – comparable to a January Camp game against Costa Rica, perhaps a slight step down – you can see the pieces that made him a Best-XI player last year. And also you can see him get kicked in the face.

 

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