I don’t think I need to tell you how one Nashville SC player made an impact for the United States in Monday’s Qatar World Cup game.
If you were watching with the rest of the world, you noticed him.
You saw Nashville quarterback Walker Zimmerman make the deeply unfortunate decision to tackle a Welsh player with his back to the net. You saw how weak the tackle was. You saw that the referee announced a penalty kick. Then you saw Gareth Bale convert that penalty into a life-saving goal for Wales.
You can’t say Zimmerman’s foul cost the U.S. the game, because the U.S. didn’t lose. It just felt like a 1-1 draw was a disappointing result as they led for about 45 minutes and were awarded a penalty in the 82nd minute.
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And so at GEODIS Park—where I had gathered to watch and cheer for Zimmerman, as they’d been doing proudly all afternoon—the mood fell silent.
Sports can be like that.
More than ever, it showed how Nashville has a piece in this World Cup like never before.
Zimmerman is on the US men’s national team along with Nashville SC teammate Shaq Moore, who did not play against Wales.
When Bale made his MLS debut for LAFC last summer, it was in a game at GEODIS Park. We knew at the time that Bill would lead Wales against the USA in a World Cup match each side was eagerly anticipating.
USA did not qualify in 2018, meaning the last time our men’s national team appeared in the World Cup was in 2014.
Just look at all that has happened in Nashville since then.
We have one point in the Premier League. We have a new soccer stadium at the Fairgrounds and as a result more and more locals are getting to know the beautiful game.
At that stadium on Monday, fans showed up in USMNT and Nashville SC jerseys. I was told that Friday’s gathering for the USA-England game is over.
Nashville SC majority owner John Ingram, the man responsible for the existence of that team and the stadium, was on hand to watch the USA-Wales game.
“I wanted to come. I’m a fan too.” “…a combination of our club and people paying more attention to soccer in general in the city and having two of our players on the U.S. team, when someone you know or watch the game is in it,” Ingram said at halftime. “It makes it more interesting. You feel more ownership and connection to it.”
At one point during the Wales game, the sight and sound flashed through the television screens of American fans at the venue in Qatar, chanting faster and faster to a rhythmic USA chant. Those in GEODIS Park picked it up, clapping and cheering along with those on the other side of the world.
It was a moment. Team USA was back on the world’s biggest stage, and Nashville was a part of it.
The American team also played well. As the Americans controlled most of the game. Fans in Nashville booed the refs as if they were there. They roared in aggregate when the USA took a 1-0 lead and were nervous as the USA looked to win and three points, which would be huge to advance from the group stage.
Of course this happened.
In Zimmerman’s home stadium, his tackle was met with immediate groans along with a grim realization about which American player was responsible. A hard scene of mixed emotions. Because here, in addition to being a good MLS player, Zimmerman has a reputation for being a really nice person.
Seriously, the Washington Post published an article about this a week ago.
“Walker is a really good guy,” Ingram said at halftime. “Our locker room is full of good kids.”
Zimmerman has been a cornerstone of Nashville’s three years as an MLS expansion team. He scored the club’s first MLS goal. He has been named MLS Defender of the Year twice.
None of that changed with Monday’s mistake.
If anyone is going to support Zimmerman moving forward, it’s certainly going to be the die-hard fans in Nashville. If anything, they’ll be rooting for him even harder this World Cup. Football fans in this city used to be emotionally invested, but now even more so.
Zimmerman’s good performance against England on Friday doesn’t hurt, though.
Contact Tennessee sports columnist Gentry Estes at [email protected] and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.