Nashville SC

Walker Zimmerman repeats as MLS Defender of the Year

Walker Zimmerman photo courtesy Nashville SC

Although Nashville’s defense wasn’t quite as strong overall as it was last season, for the second straight year, there was no question who was its leader. Walker Zimmerman’s efforts were recognized, and he is a repeat Major League Soccer Defender of the Year winner.

From League release:

NEW YORK (Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021) – Major League Soccer today announced Nashville SC center back Walker Zimmerman has been named the 2021 MLS Defender of the Year. Zimmerman becomes the third player in league history and the first in more than a decade to win the award in consecutive seasons.

He helped anchor a Nashville SC defense which tied for the best in Major League Soccer with a goals against average of 0.97, the second season in the club’s two-year MLS history where it has allowed less than a goal per game.

Download Walker Zimmerman MLS Defender of the Year Media Assets HERE.
The U.S. international defender was also part of a joint league-leading 13 shutouts over the course of the season, a year when the club became just the seventh in MLS history go through an entire campaign at home without a single loss (8-0-9 at Nissan Stadium).

Offensively, Zimmerman scored three goals and added two assists in 25 appearances (22 starts), the assists a single-season career-high in his ninth year in MLS, after he was the No. 7 overall pick out of Furman Univ. in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. Zimmerman was previously a finalist for MLS Defender of the Year honors in 2019 (while with Los Angeles Football Club) and 2016 (with FC Dallas).

On the international level, Zimmerman has been an integral part of the U.S. national team’s back line for the past few seasons. He was part of the squad which claimed the Concacaf Gold Cup this year, captaining the team for two group-stage matches, and has started each of the last five FIFA World Cup qualifying matches, now with 21 international caps (with 2 goals). Zimmerman was also a starter in the 2021 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target, playing the first 45 minutes in the eventual MLS win against the Liga MX All-Stars.

The Defender of the Year award was voted on by MLS club technical staff, media and current MLS players. Below is a breakdown of the voting results:

Major League Soccer release
Defender of the Year
 
PLAYER
 
CLUB
 
MEDIA
 
TOTAL
 
Walker Zimmerman (NSH)
 
22.40%
 
42.40%
 
28.10%
 
30.97%
 
Yeimar Gomez (SEA)
 
13.50%
 
15.20%
 
21.70%
 
16.80%
 
Miles Robinson (ATL)
 
9.90%
 
15.20%
 
10.30%
 
11.80%
 
Andreu Fontas (KC)
 
3.10%
 
3.00%
 
10.80%
 
5.63%
 
DeJuan Jones (NE)
 
5.70%
 
3.00%
 
3.40%
 
4.03%

It was not the strongest year for individual defensive performances – with most of the top units in goals-against thriving on a collective team effort. Nashville’s defense was the best in goals-against, and the Boys in Gold allowed 15 of their 33 goals this season without Zimmerman on the pitch (even though he played in 66.8% of available minutes). Zimmerman also added three goals for good measure, the same number that he scored in the 2020 regular season, even though it felt at times like he was less threatening than he had been a year ago.

He was named to the MLS Team of the Week for weeks 4, 20, 24, and 29. The painful end to Nashville’s season with a PK shootout loss to Philadelphia Union (in which Zimmerman missed his penalty) won’t erase what a strong season the second-year NSC player had.

Zimmermann is the first back-to-back winner of the award since Chad Marshall did it in 2008 and 2009 with the Columbus Crew (Marshall won a third time in 2014, then playing for the Seattle Sounders).

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