FRISCO - Last weekend's ATX Pro Challenge was a big success for FC Dallas. They got two quality games in against MLS opponents and about the only major drawback was not winning the epic armadillo trophy.
A huge positive from the weekend was the solid play of 21-year-old defender Walker Zimmerman. The third-year man played a combined 135 minutes over the weekend, second-most on the team, logging 45 minutes in Friday's 3-1 win over Columbus Crew SC and the full 90 in FCD's 1-0 loss to D.C. United on Sunday.
“We’re obviously in preseason mode and my legs were definitely heavy because we have done a lot of training,” Zimmerman said after practice on Wednesday. “But to be out there and play 135 minutes in two games, it's definitely solid. I know we've just got to keep pushing from here.”
Playing 90 minutes is nothing new to Zimmerman, he did it eight times last season including a 90-minute performance in FCD’s 2-1 playoff win over Vancouver last October. However, to see him do it early in the season shows how highly head coach Oscar Pareja thinks of him.
“He has done a very good job so far in the preseason,” Pareja said. “He has understood that the professionalism has to be there, especially in the offseason. He has just done a good job of keeping himself in a good mode of training and its paying off for him. He is looking good.”
Zimmerman was drafted seventh overall by FC Dallas in the 2013 SuperDraft and has shown flashes of greatness when called upon. Injuries have stunted his growth in the past, but early returns suggest that a fully healthy season in 2015 could vault the Georgia native into the discussion among the best young defenders in the league. He hopes it also translates into a call-up for the United States Olympic camps and qualifying in October.
“It’s a massive year for the team and with the Olympics coming up, a massive year for myself,” Zimmerman said. "It’s just about staying diligent with off-the-field training like stretching, yoga and different exercises to just maintain my body. So I’ve just been taking care of the little things. It’s all part of being a professional athlete, staying focused and doing the little things.”
Last year Zimmerman was called up to United States U-23 camp, but a hamstring injury kept him from attending. This season, he is doing everything he can to stay healthy to give himself the best chance at making the team.
“It’s all about staying on the radar,” he said. “It’s important to get into some camps this year especially with qualifying coming up this fall. It’s obviously important for me and my career and I think that the Olympics will happen based on how I do with FC Dallas. So first and foremost, my priority is to focus on having good performances week in and week out in training and in games. Then we'll just see what happens.”
Zimmerman’s approach to training and his determination to make the Olympic team have not gone unnoticed.
"I think there are a bunch of things that we all have to do as professionals,” Pareja said. “In this case, he understands that every aspect of his game needs to be higher, the technical part, the physical part. I want to see him in our starting XI more frequently, and I want to see him on the Olympic team.”