CHESTER, Pa. — As the United States men’s national team lined up for its 37th-minute corner kick, centerback Walker Zimmerman made a comment to midfielder Christian Pulisic regarding the team’s size advantage on set pieces.
“It’s funny. I came up to Christian prior to the actual set piece and said, ‘These balls are so good, these guys are so small; we’re going to get a goal,'” Zimmerman said. “And then Joe (Corona) hit it and I scored, and me and Christian were laughing about it because we essentially just called it. We had a mismatch and just waited for the ball in order to capitalize on it.”
As midfielder Joe Corona launched his corner kick from the right wing, Zimmerman rose above Bolivia’s defense and headed home the opening goal of the USMNT’s 3-0 win over Bolivia at Talen Energy Stadium on Monday night.
With the USMNT driving forward in the final third for most of the first half, Dave Sarachan’s team created a wealth of set-piece opportunities. However, the breakthrough didn’t come until Zimmerman’s first career international goal.
Zimmerman is no stranger to being a threat in the penalty area. He scored four goals in 2016 for FC Dallas. At 6 feet, 3 inches, Zimmerman is an option in the air any time he marches into the box for a set piece, and he carries the proper mentality with him.
“My mentality every time I go forward is that I’m gonna score a goal,” Zimmerman said. “That’s how I approach every, single set piece, and I know that’s one of my strengths. That’s the way I can help the team on the offensive end and I just look forward to those opportunities every time.”
Defensively, the USMNT back line wasn’t asked to do much. Zimmerman and centerback partner Erik Palmer-Brown, a Sporting Kansas City product now at Manchester City, faced little threat from the Bolivian attack.
Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono, who made his first international start on Monday, didn’t make a save for over 90 minutes.
Without a massive attacking threat, the players in front of the centerbacks were allowed more freedom to take risks in the final third and on set pieces.
“I think set pieces we were planning on going up anyway, but I think it gave a lot more freedom to our three midfielders,” Zimmerman said. “Between Weston (McKennie), Christian and Joe, they were able to get forward as well as our fullbacks. I know Antonee (Robinson) got forward a couple times there and Tim (Weah) and Josh (Sargent) were combining well, and Rubio (Rubin) was dangerous. We had a lot of individual performances. They really stepped it up and we were able to be aggressive in the attack.”
The second half was highlighted by goals from Sargent and Weah, both 18 years old. At one point in the second half, the 11 American players on the field were all under 25, including Zimmerman.
As well as the USMNT played Monday, there are bigger challenges ahead in the next two weeks. A trip to Europe features matches against the Republic of Ireland and France.
After the pair of June matches, the USMNT is set to face Brazil and Mexico in the first two friendlies following the World Cup.
Zimmerman faces stiff competition to remain in the starting XI with Matt Miazga, Cameron Carter-Vickers, John Brooks and a host of others on the centerback depth chart, but Monday was a step in the right direction for the LAFC man.
“We definitely have good younger guys who are up and coming.” Zimmerman said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of competition moving forward, and so I think we’re all excited for it. We’re ready for that challenge and ready to be consistent international players. That’s what we’re shooting for and I know we’re all going to keep competing in camps to make each other better.”