Lawrenceville’s Walker Zimmerman is blossoming into an MLS star in his fourth season at FC Dallas. The center back has started 26 games in 2016 for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup champions. He spent two seasons at Furman University before signing a Generation adidas contract and being drafted seventh overall in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft.
Locally, Zimmerman won a Georgia Soccer State Cup championship with his youth club GSA Phoenix. He graduated from Brookwood High School in Gwinnett County.
Thanks to Jason Minnick and Marleine Calderon with FC Dallas for making this happen, and best of luck to Walker as he heads into the MLS playoffs soon...
Jon: Expectations are high for FC Dallas- considering where you are in the MLS standings right now. Is there a feeling of there being a target on your back or is there more of a “take care of business” attitude around these days?
Walker: There’s definitely been a bull’s-eye on our back- just because we’ve been at the top for so long now and especially with only a few weeks remaining, every point matters. I think at this point every team kind of has a target on their backs because every point goes a long way because of the standings.
Jon: What’s it like under Coach Pareja? Describe his style and what makes what he’s taught to the side a success on the pitch?
Walker: He’s a very intense person, so he brings a lot of competitive nature and competitive spirit to our team. I think we reflect a lot of his mannerisms on the field, so we’re a team that works very hard and he gets the best out of us. We’re a very fit team. That just comes from how hard our training is day in and day out.
Jon: So, then to get where you want to be as a team by the end of the season- finishing on the highest notes possible- what do you think you have to do as a squad between now and then?
Walker: I think we just have to stop being so naive. I think there are times where we have given up some soft goals. At this point of the season, I think we just can’t give up any more soft goals. We need to get shutouts and we need to walk away with the Supporters’ Shield or else we’re not going to be happy.
Jon: For those not familiar with your story, what gravitated you to being a soccer player in the first place?
Walker: I’ve always loved playing sports. Playing sports has always been in my family’s blood, so I played basketball, baseball, and soccer until about 8th Grade. At that time, soccer was beginning to pick up a lot and I realized that if I wanted to play a professional sport, then the best chance was playing soccer.
Jon: What’s your first soccer memory? A lot of folks might be tied to the Chiefs, the Ruckus, or the Silverbacks. Is it a local one or a national one?
Walker: For me, my first soccer memory was probably the 2002 World Cup, just watching the team advance further than they ever have. Watching the young guys like Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley play, along with Brian McBride, Cobi Jones. That was probably my first “soccer” memory. But I’ve just really grown up watching all sports, so I don’t know that I watched soccer any more than any other sport growing up.
Jon: How has the soccer community on the whole grown as you’ve gotten older- being a part of it on the grass roots level and seeing it grow?
Walker: It’s definitely growing. You look at the TV rights and you see how many games are televised now more than when I was growing up. And that’s quite a big reason why I didn’t watch as much when I was a kid because there wasn’t as much to watch. So, now that we have games on ESPN, FOX, and the major networks, the game is certainly growing and the US getting out of the group in the past few World Cups has been a big part of that growth and development.
Jon: Compare the soccer community in all of your stops along the way to your Georgia exposure.
Walker: Tough question… I started playing when I was around 4 or 5 years old and played all the way through high school, so playing soccer in Georgia was a big part of my soccer experience. I was really fortunate to be on a very good youth club and we had multiple state championships and regional championships. We made it to nationals multiple times, so we would get a lot of exposure through our club team.
Since moving on, playing in South Carolina for college and moving on here to Dallas, they each bring on their own experiences. But I would say that Georgia soccer was the first step for me and what helped me fall in love with the game.
Jon: How would you best describe the soccer community of Atlanta? Obviously, with MLS coming online next season, it’s the biggest step you can take in an organized sense.
Walker: I would say “diverse” and “growing.” I mean, there’s SO many youth clubs and academy teams now. There’s just a lot of talent. You look at colleges now and, if they visit Atlanta, they’re going to find a lot of talent there. That’s what they have been doing. With all the teams and all the clubs, there’s certainly a lot of potential in Atlanta. Hopefully, with the MLS team coming, it will continue to grow and be a main hub for young soccer players in the US.
Jon: And for Atlanta to be a top soccer community and/or destination as it takes its next steps, let’s say you’re “King For A Day”, what would you do to make it happen?
Walker: I would try to reward the fans, especially for Atlanta United. Just because you look at some of the major teams in MLS and look at their fan bases, that’s really what grows the club as well. To have a fan base that sticks with you, especially in the early years, whether you’re doing well or not doing well, the fans are going to have to stick with them and be unique and show just a crazy level of support in order for the team to take off the way that it could and the way that it should.