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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.