FRISCO - It’s a homecoming for one of Atlanta’s own as FC Dallas visits Atlanta United FC on Sunday.
Defender Walker Zimmerman grew up in Lawrenceville, Georgia, just about 30 miles from the new Mercedes Benz Stadium that will see its soccer debut this weekend. During his first U.S. National Team call-up in February, Zimmerman made his debut in Nashville, about two hours away from home, but Sunday will be his first business trip back as a professional.
“This is a game that I've had circled on my calendar from the beginning of the year,” the defender said this week. “Now that's it's finally here, I'm really excited to go back.”
Over 40 of Zimmerman’s friends and family are expected to be in attendance, as well as some young players looking to follow in his footsteps. Sunday will be Gwinnett Soccer Association night - the very club the 24-year-old came through - with kids wearing his former colors serving as ball boys and walking out with the two MLS sides.
They’re part of a completely different soccer landscape than the one Zimmerman grew up. Back in his day, there wasn’t an MLS team closer than the northeastern seaboard to follow as a young player. Now, with the success of expansion franchises in Atlanta and Orlando City - and possibly more on the horizon - the sport is taking hold on the South.
“I think it's great for Georgia there are a lot of competitive clubs, a lot of incredible Academies in that area, so it's a great place for an MLS franchise,” said Zimmerman. “It’s definitely changed. You can see the growth and you can see the excitement I think more than anything…I think there were some doubters in the beginning, but the fans and the people of Atlanta have continued to impress and set the standard for what an expansion franchise in MLS should be like.”
But for as proud as the native Georgian is for his hometown, it’s all business this weekend looking to rain on the team’s parade.
“It is all about FC Dallas this weekend for me. It'll be great to see family, maybe catch up for a bite to eat or something, but the goal of the trip is three points,” he said. “Both teams right now are in a playoff race and there's a lot on the line for both teams. For us to go in on the road and get a win would be huge for our team and it'd be great to do that in front of all my friends and family.”