Walker Zimmerman Directs Eddie Segura Against Seattle 190421 IMG

LAFC Doubles Down On Youth With Zimmerman Trade

There are more than just two sides to every trade.

Of course, there are two teams. There are the players involved. There's the financial and sporting aspect. And inevitably, there will be an array of people lining up to crown winners and losers in any deal.

But it's more than just a transaction.

There's the business side and then there's the human side. Players and their families have to pick up their lives, say goodbye to friends and teammates, sometimes with little notice. And we can't forget, there's the fanbase of each team. It's never easy.

Walker Zimmerman's arrival to LAFC via trade was a big deal. His departure to Nashville SC is equally huge. 

As a player and person, Zimmerman was Black & Gold from the start. He was a foundational piece of what LAFC built on the pitch and, along with his wife Sally, he was an example of the Club's culture in the community.

The defender arrived in LA as an up-and-coming center back in need of a new challenge. In his two seasons with LAFC, Zimmerman was a stalwart at center back. He earned MLS All-Star and Best XI selections for the first time in his career with LAFC. Already possessing the necessary tools, Zimmerman was open to the challenge from Bob Bradley and his coaching staff to become an even bigger presence in the backline on a team that demands a lot of its center backs.

A force in the air and adept at stepping up to make a play, Zimmerman developed into a modern center back. He was proactive and capable of playing on his own at times. Zimmerman was unafraid of defending in space and helped create a foundation for LAFC to push from the back, squeezing opponents in their own half. 

It's not out of line to say Zimmerman's time with LAFC was a fulfillment of his abilities as a young defender in MLS. Now 26 years old, he's a defender in his prime. The outlay LAFC received in return for Zimmerman from Nashville - a reported MLS-record of $1.25 million in allocation money and an international spot - is a testament to that. Nashville clearly saw an opportunity in acquiring Zimmerman ahead of their inaugural campaign, the same way LAFC did back in 2017.

The flip side of that conversation though is the opportunity now in front of LAFC, both with who they slot into Zimmerman's spot in the starting XI and how they use the money to strengthen other areas of the pitch.

Prior to the trade, Zimmerman had been away with the USMNT as LAFC started camp. In his absence, Dejan Jaković, Jordan Harvey, and Tristan Blackmon have all played in the center of the backline. Eddie Segura, Zimmerman's partner at center back last season, is also returning from national team duty. Heading into the Club's third season, center back was considered a position of depth. 

While Harvey and Jaković both provide veteran leadership at the position, the most intriguing option to partner Segura long term would be Blackmon. He fits the Club's philosophy of developing young talent from within its ranks and last year he had a breakout season for the Black & Gold.

The former first-round SuperDraft pick is versatile.  A majority of his starts last season came at right back. But his best position is likely at center back.

Blackmon combines a level of athleticism and mobility that most center backs in MLS just can't match. Bob Bradley has referenced Sergio Ramos when speaking of Blackmon. While that's simply soundbite material for most people, watch Blackmon in training and during this preseason and you'll see what Bradley means.

Like Ramos, Blackmon uses his great recovery speed and reactions to make plays other defenders couldn't dream of. Ramos also started his professional career at right back before moving centrally.

While it's not always "by the book" as Bradley says, Blackmon's instincts are aggressive and proactive like Ramos. Maybe something both players gained from marauding down the flanks and covering touchline to touchline early in their careers. Blackmon isn't afraid of pushing up into the play because he knows he can recover into the space left behind. For LAFC's game model, it's the ideal profile of a center back who still hasn't reached his ceiling.

The willingness to move Zimmerman with Blackmon coming through the team also points to LAFC's overarching strategy of investing in youth.  This season, LAFC could theoretically field a backline of three 23-year-olds and one 20-year-old - Latif Blessing (23), Blackmon (23), Eddie Segura (23), and Diego Palacios (20). 

LAFC hasn't been shy about playing young players. If they're good enough, they're old enough. Among the 24 MLS teams last season, LAFC led the league with 37 percent of its total minutes played by players under 23. No club last season eclipsed 30 percent with the vast majority of the teams under 20 percent of total minutes given to young players. That trend looks to continue as LAFC further strengthened by way of young talents like Francisco Ginella (21) and José Cifuentes (20).

The Zimmerman trade underlines the strong foundation LAFC created in its first two seasons while pointing to its bright future. A defender in his prime in Zimmerman makes way for one seemingly just about to enter his in Blackmon. LAFC is unafraid of making big moves in order to strengthen the squad and won't hesitate to continue to give young players the opportunity to blossom.

It's a cycle we should get used to in the years to come.

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