NASHVILLE, TN — Defense was the cornerstone of the philosophy that enabled Nashville SC to reach the MLS playoffs in their inaugural season, despite not landing a berth in the Welcome Back tournament due to COVID-19 player infections. That excellence was acknowledged last week when the leader of their defense, and by extension the entire team, was honored for his accomplishments by the league. Center back Walker Zimmerman was named the 2020 MLS Defender of the Year.

Zimmerman helped Nashville SC become the sixth expansion club in MLS history to clinch a spot in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs in its first league year. The team posted a goals against average of 0.96 goals per game. That was the best of any expansion club in league history. They also had nine shutouts (or clean sheets in soccer parlance). Nashville SC allowed just 22 goals this season, third-fewest in the league, and only two goals more than the league leaders.

But Zimmerman also helped out on offense. He scored three goals and registered one assist in 22 starts this season. Zimmerman scored the first goal in Nashville history on Feb. 29 in the club’s inaugural match. In addition, Zimmerman, who’s also a U.S. Men’s National Team regular, led MLS with 69 headed clearances. His 64 aerials won were tied for sixth-most.

This marked Zimmerman’s first Defender of the Year award. He finished runner-up last season while playing with the Los Angeles Football Club. Zimmerman was the number seven overall pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. He also finished fourth in Defender of the Year award voting in 2016 while with FC Dallas.

Nashville SC opened the MLS playoffs last Friday with a nationally televised home game against Miami CF.