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LAFC 2018 Player Postmortem: Walker Zimmerman

High-profile addition made impact in expansion season.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Los Angeles FC Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Walker Zimmerman was one of the first players Los Angeles Football Club acquired via trade, in December 2017. The defender had enjoyed an ascendant stint at FC Dallas, but by the end of the 2017 season, he appeared to be on the outs with head coach Oscar Pareja, and LAFC swooped in to get a rare youngish center back who had presumably a decade ahead of him.

It didn’t started in the imagined way, as Zimmerman picked up an injury in warmups for LAFC’s first game, against the Seattle Sounders, and he missed the first three games as a result. On the bright side, LAFC ended up winning the first two of those games, and were Zlataned by the third, and Zimmerman stayed pretty much healthy for most of the rest of the season. So even if it didn’t start as anticipated, it wasn’t an omen of a rocky season ahead, for player or team.

Zimmerman ended up being the ever-present at center back for LAFC, with Laurent Ciman moving on by August and Danilo Silva struggling at times with injuries after he took over next to the American. Not only that, but he also took advantage of the U.S. Men’s National Team lull in 2018 to get several chances and make a case for future call-ups as well.

Zimmerman LAFC 2018 statistics

2018 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2018 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
MLS Regular Season 26 26 2,321 4 1 24 8 4 0
U.S. Open Cup 4 4 328 0 1 0 0 0 0
MLS Playoffs 1 1 90 0 0 1 0 1 0
Total 31 31 2,739 4 2 25 8 5 0

As far as next-level looks at Zimmerman’s game, he seems to be a player who thrives with a strong leader next to him. First Matt Hedges in Dallas and then Ciman, Zimmerman seems like a player who succeeds with another strong partner. Can he make the leap to become the leader himself? Can he marshal a backline and become truly dominant?

LAFC acquired Zimmerman to be a foundational piece for years to come, but here’s where the plan has broken down for the moment. First, LAFC offered Zimmerman a TAM deal during the 2018 season, but reports emerged that MLS rejected that contract, afraid that signing a bunch of Americans to TAM contracts would send the market too high for the good of the league. The result? Zimmerman is out of contract now.

In a few short days, Zimmerman will be out of contract officially and free to sign with any club abroad for no cost. LAFC have given him a contract offer, but considering Zimmerman tried to sign abroad in the past — he apparently tried to get a deal in Scandinavia before re-signing with FC Dallas — he could walk, and LAFC’s gambit could fail spectacularly.

As I said, with the league rejecting the original TAM deal, failing to hold on to a foundational piece isn’t entirely LAFC’s fault, if he does sign abroad. I think there’s a decent chance he returns for 2019, but it’s certainly not guaranteed until the team is announcing it, and the longer it goes on, the longer we have to worry about the future of the defense.

There are fans of LAFC who don’t think Zimmerman is a top-tier defender. Is his game perfect? No, sometimes he loses his reads and get pulled way out of position. But as an aggressive defender, that’s part of his game. Part of the reason why he works well with a vocal leader is the presumption that Zimmerman will go chase fires to put out, while his partner will stay more situated and provide a measure of steadiness. With Ciman, it was more two guys marauding out to cut out fires, but I think that also exposed Zimmerman’s flaws more than built up his merits. The same goes for the way LAFC’s midfield was built, with no true defensive midfielder. It would be hard for any defender to shine more than Zimmerman did, in my opinion.

And ultimately, if LAFC are to continue playing the style they did in 2018, how easy will it be to upgrade from Zimmerman if it comes to that? I would argue that it won’t be easy, and players of his caliber with experience don’t come easily. It’s not to say that it would be impossible to upgrade, but I think the train of thought among those who think Zimmerman wasn’t great doesn’t take into account how hard it would be to find a player who surpasses him, especially in a system that doesn’t do the defense any favors.

So we’ll see. As far as I’m concerned, Walker Zimmerman had a strong season for LAFC. Will he be back in 2019? I hope so, but it’s up in the air, and if he doesn’t return, LAFC will need to shell out for an international signing or a trade. LAFC have the basis to contend for titles, and Zimmerman really seems crucial to maintaining that foundation in 2019 and beyond.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!