Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Walker Zimmerman leans on faith as he leads Nashville SC, USMNT

Walker Zimmerman felt coach Nuno Piteira was being unnecessarily harsh with his Gwinnett Soccer Academy 93 Phoenix Red team and decided to do something about it.

Then a freshman in high school, Zimmerman asked Piteira if he could pray for him — on the spot, in the middle of practice.

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“After praying, [Zimmerman] goes, ‘Coach, I think that sometimes the tougher the stuff we go through on a personal level, the closer we get to God,’” Piteira recently told The Tennessean. “‘I think that’s a good thing, Coach.’”

Now the captain of Major League Soccer team Nashville SC and a member of the U.S. men’s national team, the center back grew up in a family dedicated to ministry. His dad was a pastor for 21 years and now serves as the global director of Novo’s reFocusing team, which helps pastors live out their calling.

“Going into the ninth grade, I think my faith became way more of my own,” Zimmerman told The Tennessean. “I almost did, or did not, do certain things because I’m a pastor’s kid. Even now, there’s way more out there than just soccer or me being known as a soccer player.”

Zimmerman began his professional career with FC Dallas, who picked him seventh overall out of Furman University in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. He started 71 games in five seasons with Dallas, helping them win the Supporters’ Shield as the team with the most points in the regular season in 2016.

LAFC acquired him prior to their inaugural season in 2018 and he immediately became the anchor of the team’s back line. LAFC put together the best regular season in MLS history in its second season, right before Zimmerman’s career took an unexpected turn.

Another trade sent Zimmerman to Nashville SC as it entered MLS in 2020. The 28-year-old had an outstanding campaign last year, winning MLS Defender of the Year and leading Nashville to the playoffs, where it advanced to the conference semifinals. He also scored the team’s first goal in a season-opening loss to Atlanta United, and started all but one of the team’s games.

Widely regarded as one of the top defenders in MLS, Zimmerman has embraced his leadership role on a Nashville team still adjusting to life as an MLS franchise. As he explains in the biographical section of his personal website, his leadership philosophy is rooted in his faith.

“For me, caring means showing up for people and loving them like Jesus would,” Zimmerman wrote. “A team that genuinely cares about each other has team chemistry. It’s a formula for winning.

“So, for me, being a pro athlete is using the most of my God-given ability to win and to compete and to enjoy the journey of my career. But it’s also something just as important. It’s about selflessly impacting the world.”

Listed at the top of the section is 1 Corinthians 4:20 (NASB1995): “For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power.”

Zimmerman joined the most recent national team camp as a late replacement and came on for the second half of the U.S.’s 4-0 victory over Costa Rica on June 9. He will be back with Nashville on Friday night when the team returns from the international break and faces the New York Red Bulls.

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