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Walker Zimmerman leads Nashville SC into MLS playoffs, grateful for 'how sacrificial God's love is'

Defender Walker Zimmerman has a personal goal of winning a trophy at every club he plays for. He was successful in his first two stops, winning the Supporters’ Shield and U.S. Open Cup with FC Dallas in 2016, and the Supporters’ Shield again in 2019 as a member of LAFC.

In his second season with Nashville SC, Zimmerman can make it three-for-three by lifting the one trophy that’s eluded him in his first eight years in Major League Soccer: the MLS Cup.

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Nashville followed up a playoff appearance in its inaugural season of 2020 with a third-place finish in the Eastern Conference this season, earning a home game in the first round of the playoffs Tuesday night against Orlando City.

It’s part of what’s been a great year for Zimmerman. He has fully embraced his new home after an offseason trade sent him from Los Angeles to Nashville in February 2020, right before the world shut down due to the pandemic. He and his wife, Sally, had their first child in June.

“We love Nashville and it really does feel like home,” Zimmerman said in an episode of the Sports Spectrum Podcast to be released Wednesday. “It came at the perfect time for our family and where we are at this stage of life, being able to have a house, get a dog, have a baby, and really enter into this kind of full adulthood mode, parent mode. It’s been the perfect city to relocate and it really came at the perfect time.”

 

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A two-time MLS All-Star and the 2020 Defender of the Year, Zimmerman is widely regarded as one of the top center-backs in the league. He is a Defender of the Year finalist again this year and has become a regular member of the U.S. men’s national team during the World Cup qualifying cycle.

He started both of the national team’s qualifiers earlier this month, including a 2-0 win over rival Mexico. The U.S. is currently on track to reach next year’s World Cup in Qatar.

“[Playing for the national team has] always been the dream, and really, when you take a step back and realize you’re living out your dream, is something that’s really special,” Zimmerman said on the podcast. “That’s when I think you start to feel really proud about all the hard work that you’ve put in and all the sacrifices that you’ve made along the way.”

The child of a pastor, Zimmerman grew up in the church. He started a house church with some friends when he was a freshman in high school, which he points to as the time when his faith became his own rather than his parents’. Zimmerman also led a youth small group at a local church all five years he was in Dallas.

“From a very early age, I think I had a very strong understanding of not only having morals and what it’s like to love other people, but also it created a foundation for me spiritually, where I think my faith has played a huge role in kind of my development over the years,” he said on the podcast.

The transition to fatherhood has provided the 28-year-old with a new appreciation for the love God showed through Jesus’ death on the cross.

“Really, it’s about finding the patience and learning about how sacrificial God’s love is for us through my love for my son,” Zimmerman said on the podcast. “It really kind of changes the picture for me and helps you realize actually what a great sacrifice Jesus was on the cross when you think about God giving His only Son for us.”

Tuesday night’s single-elimination game kicks off at 8 p.m. ET. The winner faces the Philadelphia Union in the conference semifinals on Sunday.

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