Walker Zimmerman was the first player LAFC acquired in a trade and Tuesday he became the latest player the team traded away, sending the national team center back to Nashville in exchange for as much as $1.25 million in allocation funds and an international roster spot.
In between those two trades, Zimmerman became the leader of a defense that carried LAFC to two playoff berths and allowed a league-low 37 goals last season while posting the best regular-season record in MLS history.
“It came together fairly quickly,” LAFC general manager John Thorrington said of the deal, which was basically too good to pass up.
“Nashville were very clear in their intent on signing Walker and showed how much they valued him and presented a significant offer for him. And we had to make this tough decision to trade him.”
The trade was surprising for a number of reasons, including the timing. LAFC opens its season Tuesday in León, Mexico, the first game of a two-leg CONCACAF Champions League playoff against the top team in Liga MX. Also notable was the price tag. Nashville, preparing for its first MLS season, will send LAFC $600,000 in general allocation money this season and $350,000 in 2021.
LAFC could receive as much as $300,000 in additional funds over the next two years if Zimmerman meets certain performance standards, bringing the total price to $1.25 million. That would break the league record for a defender set last year when Minnesota spent $1 million to acquire Ike Opara from Sporting Kansas City.
Nashville also will give LAFC an international roster spot it needs. The team currently has 10 international players on its roster, two over the limit.
“It was a part but not the key to the deal,” Thorrington said of the international spot.
Zimmerman, 26, a regular with the national team, came to LAFC from Dallas in December 2017 and started 51 games. He signed a four-year contract extension last winter worth about $2.4 million and quickly emerged as one of the team’s most popular players.
“Walker’s been such a big part of the first two seasons. As a leader, as just a guy who, day in and day out, everybody looks up to,” coach Bob Bradley said. “He really had a lot to do with everything that took place.”
But, Bradley added, no one on the roster is untouchable.
“We’re a club that continues to evolve,” he said. “Certainly at the beginning we talked about times when we might sell players, whether it’s in the league or outside the league. This is one of those situations.”
Still, the trade caught Zimmerman’s teammates off guard. Midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye said he was in an elevator when he got the news on his phone and his reaction caused another passenger to ask Kaye if he was OK.
“I was just in shock. I was just like ‘no way,’” Kaye said. “The lady beside me probably thought someone passed away. I just didn’t see it coming.”
Zimmerman came by LAFC’s training center at Cal State Los Angeles on Tuesday to clean out his locker and address the team before saying some emotional good-byes.
“It’s hard. And it’s hard leaving,” he said.
The trade leaves LAFC with a back line in transition. In addition to Zimmerman, LAFC is without right back Steven Beitashour, who led all defenders with 54 starts in the team’s first two seasons. He was not re-signed in the offseason.
Tristan Blackmon, who recently agreed to a multi-year contract extension, is expected to replace Zimmerman in the middle of the defense, playing next to returning starter Eddie Segura. Blackmon, 23, started 15 games last season.