The U.S. Men’s National Team begin the final stage of their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign, and for defender Walker Zimmerman, that journey starts on home turf.
The USMNT reported to training camp on Sunday in Nashville, which they’ll use as a base camp before traveling to El Salvador on Thursday night, before taking on Canada at Nissan Stadium on Sunday.
“Being in Nashville is amazing. I’m really excited that our fans of Nashville SC and those traveling get to witness a qualifier at Nissan Stadium,” said Zimmerman on Monday. “Our fans have been wonderful all season long for Nashville SC, and I know that those 20-30,000 that have been showing up will be out at the game. Hopefully we just keep packing it in and make it a great atmosphere.”
These three matches bear a lot of significance for U.S. fans and players. After the 2017 failure to qualify for the World Cup, their matches against El Salvador, Canada and Honduras are the beginning of the final step towards qualifying for 2022 and, in a sense, exorcising the demons of Couva on October 10, 2017.
“I think we’re absolutely pumped,” Zimmerman said with a smile. “It’s been a couple years now that we’ve been waiting for this moment, this week in particular. Covid came along and pushed those games back. As soon as those dates were released, it’s been circled on the calendar.”
For Zimmerman personally, this moment was in jeopardy. A standout during the U.S.’s group stage at the Concacaf Gold Cup, he suffered a hamstring strain in their final group match against Canada that forced him to withdraw from the remainder of the tournament. At that point, it was a race to get fit in time to get back on the field for Nashville and be ready for a call from head coach Gregg Berhalter.
“There was definitely some urgency for me trying to get back from the injury, trying to make sure I was ready to go and fit for these,” he remarked. “It was obviously disappointing to have to leave the Gold Cup early, but amazing results from the guys to win that. In the meantime I was just grinding in Nashville. Special shoutout to all the training staff here, who really worked hard to get me back. I feel awesome, fit and ready to go.”
With three games in six days, Zimmerman and his teammates are eager to get nine points and get their final push for the World Cup off to a strong start.
“As a professional, representing your country is the highest form of soccer that you can play. To get to qualifiers and hopefully the World Cup, these are the games you dream about. These are the games we’re ready for.”