Nashville SC defender Walker Zimmerman, a member of the US Men’s National team, sat with the media to discuss the 2022 FIFA World Cup draw. Watch or read his full comments here.
How has MLS prepared you to take the steps you have with the national team?
“It’s definitely prepared us. Obviously we have guys from both MLS and abroad who have been a big part of this qualification process this cycle. And you know, we’ve all really come together, become a team, and have gone through the ups and downs and adversity together and here we are: qualified and now we know our competition here in the World Cup.”
Do you like having the draw come so quickly after the end of qualifying? And what do you think on first look at the draw?
“It’s great having the draw come so quickly after qualifying because you have this momentum, this excitement built up and this was a great way to kind of finish that qualification process by seeing the draw. And yeah: it was awesome to watch. Obviously very excited, and we had our reactions live. It’s a great group; it’s a group that I think is favorable for us. At the end of the day though, it’s World Cup: every team is going out there playing for their lives and and we’re going to do the same.
Does this journey feel any more real now that you’ve had a little bit of time to sort of digest it? What are your thoughts on potentially playing Ukraine given [presumably gestures to world around]?
“Yeah, for the first part: it is starting to feel very real. Even though we have 7-8 months to go until our first game, it has sunk in a little bit. It’s kind of the like I said: it’s the culmination of the qualifying process and that was the main objective No. 1. And now that we accomplished that, it’s looking forward to the World Cup. But again, allowing ourselves this moment to enjoy qualification, enjoy the draw, enjoy the preparation that’s about to come for the World Cup. So it’s sinking in a little bit. A lot of work left to do, but we’re going to try and enjoy this week as as best we can.
“In regards to the second question involving Ukraine: obviously our hearts, thoughts, prayers go out to Ukraine, the entire country, and that’s what makes the World Cup so special: because it’s a time where people and countries can put aside any differences, put aside any stressors that are going on and show up on the biggest stage in football and bond together. And obviously, again, we are in massive support of Ukraine. Obviously rooting for them in every which way, and it would be amazing if they end up in our group and we’d be honored to share the field with the on on the world’s biggest stage.”
Do you think familiarity with watching the Premier League or even having native Englishmen like Antonee Robinson and Yunus Musah might take away from the intimidation factor of playing England as your Pot 1 team?
“It is an interesting point because you know, obviously a lot of us watch the Premier League and a lot of us – especially guys who are over there now – have played against or with a lot of their players on England. And so there is going to be familiarity there, which I think is an advantage knowing the opponent, and obviously we’ll do a great job of scouting in preparation for that. But just the quick feedback and synopsis is: you are familiar with these players. You can start to think through some of the people on their roster, players on their roster and I think that familiarity is is a good thing for us. Again, nothing matters until you show up on that field and the whistle blows, but in terms of the preparation standpoint, having guys that are familiar, having guys that have played with or against the opponent is beneficial for us, and we’re going to be ready for it.”
What has the journey been like since being on the fringe of the XI in September to being team captain in the final game of qualifying? And looking into the crystal ball, what can you accomplish by continuing that trajectory leading into the World Cup?
“I think it just shows a reflection of kind of who I am as a person: I’m not someone who’s just going to be satisfied with making a team, I want to be on the field, I want to be a leader on the field involved in every single game. And that’s kind of what eventually took part in in the qualification process: not being involved early, getting obviously more involved later on and trying to help our country qualify for World Cup. It’s important: it’s a reflection of a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes and I’m really proud of the work that I have put in over the past couple of years to continue to develop, and not be satisfied, and not be content. And I’m not the same attitude leading to the World Cup and the rest of my career. I don’t ever want to be content about where I am, where I’ve been, I just wanna focus on next thing and and where I’m going. So: excited for that; excited the opportunity, and have a lot of work to do here in the next 7-8 months.
What kind of things are you looking to do over the next 7-8 months to just kind of keep yourself at that level heading into the World Cup? And are you prepared for eight months of banter with Englishman Gary Smith leading up to that?
It was funny: Gary walked in literally right before the US was drawn into the group with England and, you know, he couldn’t believe it. He was super excited. He’s like, ‘well now I’m a little bit torn.’ And I was like, ‘you better not be torn. You better go for your player.’ So it’ll be an interesting dilemma for him: to see kind of what side he takes, see how he responds in the media about who he wants to win that game. I hope his loyalties still lie with me. But you know, we’ll see what he says.
“In regards to the next eight months, it’s going to be very important to 1) take care of my body physically, mentally make sure I get appropriate rest, but also 2) through the appropriate work that it takes to stay sharp and to stay fit and stay prepared as we we had closer to November.
How do you see the young age of the USMNT playing into the World Cup experience? And do you take any confidence from the fact that the USMNT has never lost to England in the World Cup?
“I think the past results don’t really matter. Maybe you can take a little bit of confidence knowing that you have gotten results, but it’s a completely different team, completely different roster, and so you’re going to have to show up and compete regardless.
“In terms of the youth of our team, I think that that we look at that as a strength of ours. We have a lot of energy, and while we might not have the World Cup experience, we have a lot of players who are playing in big clubs playing in big games. We we took a lot from Gold Cup, Nations League this past Summer, the Qualifying process this past year. And those are the experiences – the ups, the downs that I talked about earlier – that we’re going to take from the past year or two years and use that as we head to the World Cup. And and again: I I view it as a strength of our team. The ambition and the drive, you know, it’s all there for us and and so now it’s about going out, executing and making sure that we use that energy in the right way in November.”
Growing up and dreaming of being a soccer player, did you ever dream that this sort of peak was possible?
“I think a lot of people would answer no, like they couldn’t imagine this in their wildest dreams, But for me, I think the answer is absolutely yes. This has been the goal, this has been the vision for my entire life. Again, putting in those hard workouts, those hard moments, going through adversity. I’ve always gone through those moments with the end goal in mind, which is competing in a World Cup. And so I’m ready; I feel like this is a fulfillment of what I’m supposed to be doing. And yeah, I think it is where I’m supposed to be. And I can’t wait to hopefully get there and and fulfill that dream that was instilled in that little boy so long ago.”
Is there a different feeling seeing the draw come through, rather than just knowing you’re qualified and in without knowing the details?
“It does. I got a text to my wife like, ‘I can’t believe that what I’m watching is like pertaining to you and to us and to our life.’ I was like ‘yeah, you’re kind of right.’ You know you’ve seen these draws, before you’ve seen World Cups before, but when you are so close to being involved in one, it does hit a little bit different and it does make it more real. So again, a very exciting day. Now it’s about, you know, shifting your focus to the club and making sure you perform well for your club to where you can continue to be called in, continue to be involved in the national team, and it’s important that all of us do that: that we don’t just kind of sit around and take it easy for 7-8 months because we need to be coming in and good form on the individual and a collective basis. So yeah, it’s more real. It’s settling in, but there’s a lot of hard work left to do until we get to that point.”