MEXICO CITY -- Back in the summer, the spirits were high in Pachuca. The departure of Hirving "Chucky" Lozano to PSV left a void to be filled, but the club made important moves, one of the them, the most principal, was bringing Keisuke Honda on board. However, what appeared as an optimistic start to the 2017-18 season soon turned into a challenging one for Los Tuzos, where the results in the first half of the current year didn't reflect the results that were anticipated early on in the summer. Pachuca's recent loss to Gremio in the FIFA Club World Cup semifinals was similar to many of the team's losses in these last five months, which included a mixture of lack of concentration in the defensive end and not being able to be clinical in front of goal.
At least for Pachuca not everything has been negative because in this strange Apertura season, there was one player who stood out because of his scoring numbers: Victor Guzman. Guzman, who started off his professional career as a defensive midfielder has gone through an evolution that has led him to become the top Mexican-born goalscorer off the 2017 Apertura.
His ascend has been so evident that the only goal Pachuca has scored in the Club World Cup was also scored by the 22-year-old Guadalajara native. Unfortunately, in the game against the Copa Libertadores champions, Gremio, Guzman was sent off after seeing two yellows.
The dismissal in the United Arab Emirates was Guzman's second in the last five months. His first one came in Pachuca's visit to Tijuana in Week 7, which prevented him from dressing for the Week 8 match against Chivas, his youth club.
With Guzman watching from the stands, Chivas defeated Pachuca 3-1, in what was the club's second home loss of the Apertura. The first team to beat Los Tuzos at Estadio Hidalgo this past season was Club America, and dropping those three points at home, Diego Alonso's men saw a 29-game home undefeated streak come to an abrupt end.
Guzman arrived to Pachuca for the 2015 Apertura (on loan), and since that moment, his process at the club has been taken step by step. Manager Alonso also arrived to the club in that same year, but in the Clausura.
"When he arrived here, he was a defensive midfielder. We brought him in because we needed a bench option for Jorge "Burrito" Hernandez," said Alonso to ESPN FC back in the early part of the Apertura after Pachuca defeated Veracruz 4-1. "He's lived the same evolution as [Rodolfo] Pizarro because Pizarro also played as a defensive midfielder and even on the flanks. Then, we made Pizarro into a right-midfielder, playing more in the center than on the flanks. At the end he played as a playmaker and understood that role.
"After Pizarro left the team, Guzman started picking up on that role, and logically we started giving him indications of how he's supposed to play in that position, and now he's transformed into a multi-purpose player.
"He can play as a right-midfielder, defensive midfielder, right-winger, and also a playmaker. And tonight, he even played as striker," continued Alonso. "He has that versatility and logically we've tried to help him so he can understand all the functions of each position, but the success he's having is all due to him because he's understood how to play these roles. He wanted to grow, and that's great to see in players like him, Pizarro or [Erick] Gutierrez, all whom want to keep growing."
Next month, Mexico's national team is scheduled to play a friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina in San Antonio. Because this friendly will not take place during a FIFA date, manager Juan Carlos Osorio will only be able to call on players who play in Liga MX, which means that the likelihood of seeing Guzman on the roster is high.
Knowing about Guzman's versatility, it will be interesting to see where Osorio sees Guzman in his starting XI. The likelihood of seeing Guzman in Mexico's World Cup final roster is almost zero, but the fact that he's only 22 makes him a player capable of raising his level to the point of owning a place in many of El Tri's call-ups after the World Cup in Russia.
Next Thursday, Pachuca visit Monterrey in the Copa MX final. It was in the 2016 Clausura, where Pachuca beat Monterrey in the Liga MX final by a 2-1 aggregate. Guzman scored the dramatic winner for Pachuca, and in that instant, he won over Pachuca's faithful. This final will be the second between Pachuca and Monterrey in less than three years, and Guzman will arrive to this one as Pachuca's biggest scoring threat.
The final presents an opportunity for Guzman to cap off an important year in his young career, and for Pachuca to close out the year with a positive, that will help it start off 2018 on the right foot.