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Victor Guzman enjoys ‘revenge’ and shows why he’s important to Mexico’s future

Victor Guzman of Mexico celebrates after scoring his first goal.
Victor Guzman has come a long way in the last few months.

MONTERREY, Mexico — Victor “Pocho” Guzman’s first goal for Mexico goal in Thursday’s 3-2 victory over Costa Rica was the closing of a chapter of sorts inside Estadio Universitario.

As Guzman celebrated his golazo — the midfielder ghosted in at the far post, received a right-wing cross and volleyed into the top corner past a helpless Keylor Navas — few watching realized just how much it had meant to him and its relevance.

“It’ll remain in my mind forever,” the 23-year-old said after the game.

A maiden goal for the national team is special to any player but Estadio Universitario represents one of the darkest episodes of Guzman’s career.

Let’s rewind.

Back in January 2018, ahead of Pachuca’s away trip to Tigres, the in-form Guzman had been given his first national team call-up.

“I wasn’t expecting it, but I was hoping and working for it,” said Guzman. “Fortunately, I’m at a great stage in my life and career and ready for what is to come.”

The projection was that Guzman — who had scored eight goals in the previous Clausura — would seriously challenge for a spot in the Mexico squad at the World Cup. Instead, an innocuous tackle from Tigres’ Rafa Carioca in the 60th minute caused Guzman to twist and tear his ACL in the process. Tears flowed as he was carted off the pitch, with his World Cup dream in ruins.

The poignancy of Guzman scoring his first national team goal on his return to the same stadium, in only his 11th start since the injury, was not lost on him after the game.

“It just brings back memories that here is where I suffered the injury and the struggle [to come back],” said Guzman. “And now this.”

Guzman may have watched Russia 2018 from home, but he believes the injury has strengthened him.

“It is life, I don’t know anyone whose life has been all rosy,” he said. “There are always battles and struggles and thanks to God I’ve always had a very strong gift of being a hard player and I’m back and better; what a nice bit of revenge that was today.”

Guzman grew up in the same Guadalajara neighborhood as Mexico defender Carlos Salcedo and there’s a similarity between the two aside from the heavily-tattooed arms: There is a steeliness, a no-nonsense approach about them on the field. But perhaps the most important thing they have in common is that both are set to be central figures in the Mexico’s post-World Cup reboot.

“It’s a winning generation, believe me that we’ll always give our best and we hope the results come,” said Guzman. “We’ll always try to elevate Mexico.”

Guzman isn’t merely talking a good game at present. Against Costa Rica, he played on the left of a midfield three in a 4-3-3 formation and was neat in possession, capping the performance with that stunning goal.

Having been kicked out of Atlas for being too small and let go by Chivas as part of the deal that saw Rodolfo Pizarro move the other way, Guzman quickly made his mark at Pachuca, scoring the title-winning goal against Monterrey in the 2016 Clausura.

He started out playing in a deeper midfielder role, but perhaps his scoring instinct has convinced managers that he needs to be closer to goal and he can play on either side of a midfield three or as an attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1.

The timing he has in making runs into the box has been bolstered since his injury by an uptick in assists. In the 2018 Apertura so far, he has put in five assists as well as three goals, and there are really no signs that this is a player who has just recovered from what used to be a career-threatening injury. If anything, he seems to have improved.

It’s already been testing year for Guzman, but the 23-year-old is looking likely to end 2018 on the high he would’ve hoped for going into it. The future again looks bright.

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