Trio going to World Cup hopes to inspire youth soccer players in Georgia

It is interesting how inspiration from a Mohawked renegade can come full circle.

Walker Zimmerman, who grew up in Lawrenceville and plays for Nashville in MLS, said he can remember waking early to watch Stone Mountain native Clint Mathis, sporting the unusual hairstyle and an obvious don’t-care attitude, help the U.S. achieve success in the 2002 World Cup hosted jointly by South Korea and Japan.

Sean Johnson, who grew up in Lilburn and is a free agent after helping NYCFC win the 2021 MLS Cup, said he also would wake early to watch the U.S. Both began dreaming of one day representing their country in the world’s most popular sports event.

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After years of work, both hope to create dreams for the next generation of soccer players in Lawrenceville, Lilburn and cities around Georgia, Tennessee and New York, where they play as professionals.

They are going to get their chance. They, along with Powder Springs native Shaq Moore, were three members of the 26-player roster called by manager Gregg Berhalter to be part of the U.S. team that will play in the World Cup in Qatar. The team’s first game is scheduled for Nov. 21 against Iran in Doha. It will be the first World Cup for each player.

“It’s the biggest dream that I’ve had growing up,” said Johnson, who will compete with Matt Turner and Ethan Horvath at goalkeeper. Johnson, 33, has made 10 appearances for the U.S. “So I’m excited to take part now and hopefully inspire what is the next generation as well.”

ExploreWorld-class turf from South Georgia will be used at World Cup

Zimmerman, who is presumed to start at centerback, said he is overjoyed to represent metro Atlanta. The 29-year-old has made 33 appearances for the U.S.

“Hopefully we can inspire kids the same way that, you know, Clint Mathis from Georgia inspired us,” he said. “So it’s just a fun part of the job to be able to inspire people and represent, you know, your hometown.”

Moore’s path wasn’t as straight as that of Zimmerman and Johnson, who both graduated from Brookwood High School before attending college, Johnson at Central Florida and Zimmerman at Furman, before they were drafted by MLS teams.

Moore left Powder Springs to attend IMG Academy, where Atlanta United has spent two of its preseason camps, in Bradenton, Fla. Moore then began training with Dallas, which drafted Zimmerman in 2013, before heading to Spain, where he played for several clubs. He was transferred from Tenerife in the second division to Nashville during this most recent season. Moore, 26, has made 15 appearances for the U.S.

“It’s great to represent the South ... so just being the kind of idol to those kids that wish they could have a chance, knowing that two guys that came from where they’re coming from to actually play the World Cup is great,” he said.

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