Expansion teams are built from scratch, which means every player on the roster has come from somewhere else. For the first-year Los Angeles Football Club, that’s made for a lot of homecomings.
There will be another one Saturday when center back Walker Zimmerman returns to Dallas to play against the team that brought him to MLS six years ago, then traded him to Los Angeles last winter.
“There’s definitely a lot of fans and a lot of friends that I still have there,” Zimmerman said. “The overall reception, we’ll see. I enjoyed my time there. I gave everything I had for the club.”
His time in Dallas didn’t end the way he had hoped. Last spring, Zimmerman suffered a strained MCL in his left knee and missed a month, breaking up a span in which he started 40 of 46 games over two seasons. When he came back, he was a part-time player, starting just eight times over the season’s final four months.
“I do have something to prove, I guess,” Zimmerman said. “I don’t think there was any major friction that went down. It was more of just, as a player, you always want to be on the field and compete. At the end of the year, I was trying to work as hard as I could every day to try to be in that lineup.
“It was in the best interest of both parties to get a trade to L.A. and so here we are. No hard feelings toward Dallas. I love competing against them.”
LAFC (6-3-3) has been through this before. Tyler Miller returned to Seattle for the season-opener and shut out his former team; defender Jordan Harvey, who played a franchise-record MLS 179 games in Vancouver, made his first LAFC start against the Whitecaps in a 2-0 win. When the team went to Montreal a week later, captain Laurent Ciman scored LAFC’s first goal against the team that had promised not to trade him — and then did.
“Every player’s different,” LAFC coach Bob Bradley said. “Vancouver had a very nice ceremony where they, on the video board, showed some highlights from Jordan. It was a proud moment for him.
“Laurent in Montreal, now this is more emotional. That was more of a roller-coaster ride that finished up in the right way. Walker is a steady guy. Has his head screwed on well. And I’m sure he’ll be in complete control.”
Zimmerman will be quarterbacking a depleted defense in place of Ciman, who is away with the Belgium national team. Also out is center back Dejan Jakovic, who is serving a one-game suspension, and winger Omar Gaber, who is with the Egyptian World Cup team. Outside back Steven Beitashour is questionable with a hamstring strain.
Against Dallas (6-1-5), that could leave Zimmerman as the only regular defender in a starting lineup that will also be missing Mexican national team forward Carlos Vela and striker Marco Urena, who is with the Costa Rican World Cup team. The four World Cup players could be gone until mid-July.
“We’ve got a lot of good options,” said Bradley, who will choose from a trio of Tristan Blackmon, Joao Moutinho and Harvey to fill out his backline.