May 8, 2013; Frisco, TX, USA; FC Dallas defender Walker Zimmerman (25) high fives youth soccer players prior to the game against the Portland Timbers at FC Dallas Stadium. FC Dallas tied with Portland Timbers 1-1. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
The long-term significance of Walker Zimmerman’s first Major League Soccer goal didn’t hit him immediately.
In just his second substantial appearance for FC Dallas, the MLS rookie and Brookwood grad played the final 45 minutes of a 2-2 draw with Sporting Kansas City on June 22. His memorable goal that evening couldn’t have been more thrilling — a 90th minute header that gave his club a tie in a match it had trailed 2-0 late.
A group of 12 of Zimmerman’s family and friends attended that match, including his parents, who were watching him play an MLS game in person for the first time.
“I think I was just so caught up in the moment, I didn’t realize how special that (first MLS goal) was,” said Zimmerman, who just turned 20 in May. “I was just excited to tie the game and celebrate with my teammates.”
The central defender’s contributions have come pretty frequently of late, now that he has recovered from an injury that delayed his MLS debut. Inflammation of the hip and pelvis, which nagged Zimmerman during his final college season at Furman.
He was limited to physical therapy, the stationery bike and core exercises as the overuse injury healed up, which kept him from FC Dallas training until late April.
After just two weeks of training, Zimmerman made his MLS debut late in a win over DC United on May 11. A week later, he played five minutes late in a loss to Seattle. It was his first soccer game in eight months.
“It was a really cool experience,” Zimmerman said of his first MLS game. “It was almost like I forgot what it was like to play in a big soccer game.”
A week after the Seattle loss, he made his first start and played the full 90 minutes in a 1-0 victory over San Jose.
His next two appearances were both ties, and he scored in both. After his dramatic goal vs. Kansas City, he logged all 90 minutes and scored a goal in a June 29 tie with Philadelphia.
“(Zimmerman’s) scored two goals in a very short period of time,” FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman told the Dallas Morning News last week. “He came in injured (after the draft). He’s a good athlete. He’s a great person. He works extremely hard. I think he’s a great complement to FC Dallas and I think we’re getting a lot out of him.
“We still haven’t seen his best. That goal that he scored against Philadelphia, that was not an easy header because he was going in one direction and had to pull his body back to get on the ball. His speed of play, his decision making and his movement (are improving). I think we’re going to end up with a really good one.”
That was the idea when FC Dallas made Zimmerman, with a Generation Adidas contract that encouraged him to leave college soccer early, a first-round pick (seventh overall) in this year’s MLS SuperDraft.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder has stood up well thus far to the challenges of MLS forwards, playing quality minutes at both central defense positions. With his height, he also is a force offensively on set pieces.
Many figured those skills would help the Americans’ Under-20 National Team in the U-20 World Cup this summer. His injury issues this year kept him off the squad, which lost 4-1 matches to Spain and Ghana and tied France 1-1 in group play.
Zimmerman, a regular contributor for the U-20 and U-18 teams in the past, was disappointed that he couldn’t help his teammates this summer in Turkey, but he still has high aspirations in international soccer.
“Playing for your country is pretty incredible,” Zimmerman said. “I want to do that as much as I can. The goal is to play for the next Olympic team (in 2016). I’ll be the oldest group eligible for that (team). Hopefully that’s the next big step on the international level.”
Those goals are way down the road, so Zimmerman’s focus is on making the best of his rookie season.
He’s acquitted himself well thus far against some of the league’s top forwards, helping FC Dallas stay near the top of the Western Conference standings.
The club is second to Real Salt Lake in the nine-team conference, and the top five teams make the playoffs.
Every game presents a challenge for the rookie, who aims to contribute heavily for one of the league’s top teams.
“(MLS) is a little more physical than college and the forwards are more athletic,” Zimmerman said. “Winning balls in the air and matching up with players physically is a challenge. And just overall, practicing every day and making road trips Thursday to Sunday when you’re on the road. It’s a job and you have to be ready every day.
“But it’s going pretty well so far. I’ve gotten some good results.”