Republic's James Kiffe on teammate Octavio Guzman
Octavio Guzman isn’t the forgotten man.
That’s one thing Republic FC coach Paul Buckle wants to make clear.
“I’m a big fan of Tavo,” Buckle said. “When we lost him last season, I knew it was going to be a loss to us in a big way. To get him back is great … it’s been a real long road for him.”
Guzman was a key member of Republic FC during its inaugural 2014 campaign and scored a goal in Sacramento’s 2-0 USL championship game win over the Harrisburg City Islanders at Bonney Field.
He had played in 19 USL matches with 18 starts last season entering an Aug. 1 match against the Seattle Sounders 2 at Bonney Field. In the 76th minute, Guzman went down with a right knee injury after a vicious tackle by Seattle’s Amadou Sanyang, who received a straight red card.
Although Republic FC won the match, Guzman missed the final nine matches, and Sacramento’s season ended in the first round of the playoffs. Guzman’s knee injury didn’t require surgery, but the ensuing rest and rehab cost him much-needed fitness.
“I was ready toward the end of the season, but the group was doing well, so I had to respect that,” Guzman said.
During the offseason, Guzman underwent surgery – for a troublesome left shoulder that he said “was always popping out.” Then during the preseason, Guzman suffered a quad injury that sidelined him again.
So Guzman has played in just two of Republic FC’s four USL matches, with both appearances coming from off the bench.
Still, he showed the type of energy he could bring during a 27-minute stint in Republic FC’s 1-0 win over Arizona United SC in the home opener April 2.
Although it was Cameron Iwasa who scored the winning goal in the 84th minute, Guzman proved a handful for Arizona’s defense with his combination of physicality and speed.
“He brings us something different from a wide area,” Buckle said. “He’s powerful. He can commit fullbacks. He’s very good at running in behind without the ball, and he’s strong traveling with it.”
But Buckle said Guzman’s fitness levels are not where they need to be for a 90-minute player.
“It’s one of those where we are probably going to have to use him to get fit in games, if that makes sense,” Buckle said.
Guzman could be a remedy for a Republic FC team that continues to struggle to score. Republic FC has just two goals in four matches this season and has been shut out in five of its last seven matches dating to last season.
Guzman played forward while growing up in the Bay Area and had 14 goals and 15 assists during his three seasons at Chico State. But Preki, Republic FC’s former coach, used him primarily as a defensive midfielder during his first two seasons.
“Now with Paul, I’m more in an attacking role,” Guzman said. “I’ve always been an attacker, so that fits me better. But I’ve developed my defensive skills, too.”
Defender James Kiffe knows how much Guzman can’t wait to play. They are roommates.
“I’ve never really had anyone who plays in front of me who reads the game so well,” Kiffe said. “... I don’t have to talk about how good he is going forward. He’s established himself on this team as a good attacker.”
With Republic FC having 26 USL regular-season matches remaining, including Saturday night against Saint Louis FC at Bonney Field, Guzman likely will have an opportunity to try to work his way back into the starting 11.
For now, he’s trying to remain patient and vigilant.
“I’m a confident player,” said Guzman, one of five players remaining from Republic FC’s 2014 opening day roster. “I know that every day in training is a chance to make myself a better player and a chance to make the players around me better. At this point, it’s all up to the coach.”