The U.S. men’s national team knows exactly where it stands heading into its group stage finale against Iran on Tuesday afternoon. A win sends the U.S. to the knockout stage of the World Cup. Any other outcome sends the team home.
While many of the team’s biggest names play higher up the field, strong defensive performances are the main reason the U.S. was able to get draws against Wales and England. The only goal the U.S. has conceded so far came from the penalty spot.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter used the same group of defenders for both games with Tim Ream starting alongside Walker Zimmerman at center back. Zimmerman is the only player from Major League Soccer to start for the U.S. in Qatar.
Speaking to the media Sunday, the 29-year-old talked about the team’s mindset heading into the must-win game.
“Our goal is obviously to win the World Cup, and in order to do that, we have to get to the knockout stages,” he said. “For us, our knockout game comes one game earlier. … We have no problem with that, starting our knockout a little bit earlier.”
Zimmerman’s best moment of the tournament so far came against England, when he blocked a shot from England star Harry Kane.
Massive stop by Zimmerman 🚫 pic.twitter.com/Sbsh4qrnJT
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 25, 2022
The Lawrenceville, Georgia, native was drafted by FC Dallas in 2013 and spent five seasons with the team before being traded to LAFC. Two years later, he was traded again, this time to Nashville SC.
Zimmerman made his national team debut on Feb. 3, 2017, but did not feature prominently for the U.S. until this World Cup cycle. He made 10 appearances during qualifying, contributing a goal and an assist as the U.S. secured a spot in Qatar after missing out on the 2018 tournament.
As he turned himself into one of the top defenders in MLS, the national team was never far from Zimmerman’s mind.
“That’s certainly always been the goal,” he said on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in November 2021 about representing his country. “It’s always been the dream. Really, when you take a step back, realizing that you’re living out your dream, it’s something that’s really special. That’s when I think you start to feel really proud about all the hard work that you put in and all the sacrifices that you made along the way.”
After being named to the official U.S. World Cup squad, the two-time MLS Defender of the Year praised God in an Instagram post.
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The son of a pastor, Zimmerman said on the podcast that faith and going to church were part of his life from the very beginning. But starting a house church with some friends in ninth grade was the point when he made his faith his own.
“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,” Zimmerman said on the podcast.
Zimmerman became a father in June 2021, which he said has given him a greater appreciation for the love his Heavenly Father has shown him.
“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.”
Kickoff between the U.S. and Iran at Al Thumama Stadium is at 2 p.m. ET. A victory sends the U.S. to a round-of-16 game that would be played Saturday or Sunday.
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– Walker Zimmerman named MLS Defender of the Year for 2nd straight season
– SS PODCAST: MLS All-Star Walker Zimmerman on parenting, faith, representing the U.S.
– Walker Zimmerman leads Nashville to playoffs, grateful for ‘how sacrificial God’s love is’