Baer: David Guzman could prove crucial to Portland Timbers' playoff hopes

David Guzman - Portland Timbers - Close up

In 2015, the Portland Timbers thought they found the answer to questions in the central midfield: Ben Zemanski.

An ACL tear later, they were left handing then 33-year-old Jack Jewsbury major minutes in what turned out to be his final two seasons.

This year, David Guzman was not the team's most highly-touted acquisition – that honor goes to Sebastian Blanco, who assisted on the Timbers’ second goal in a 5-1 victory against Minnesota United FC on Friday – but the Costa Rican defensive midfielder showed why he could be a crucial pick-up in Portland’s quest to return to the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Coming over from Saprissa in the winter, Guzman has slotted alongside Diego Chara, and their partnership proved to be a positive one (albeit coming against an expansion side playing in their first MLS game). While Chara has typically played as a deep-lying defensive midfielder, the insertion of Guzman allowed him to move up the field and play in a box-to-box role. Guzman, meanwhile, took Chara’s spot as Portland's No. 6.

The Costa Rican looked calm in the Timbers midfield, connecting on 89 percent of his 64 passes. Last year, players completed 85 percent of their passes when attempting 64 or more. Many of Guzman's were simple, as evidenced by the fact that 15 were sent to center back Liam Ridgewell, but Guzman did show the ability to look forward and help to start breaks. Take a look at this pass in the first half:

He also proved to be more than capable on the defensive side. He does not have the athleticism of a player like Osvaldo Alonso, but showed good tactical awareness throughout the match and he was not afraid to get involved in challenges. His six interceptions and three fouls conceded each paced the Timbers on Friday.

Guzman's 11 ball recoveries marked a game high among outfield players, leaving Chara free to move further up the field. Take a look at Chara's heat map from Friday night and compare it with one from last season, against the Colorado Rapids.

Chara vs. MIN (March 3, 2017)

Baer: David Guzman could prove crucial to Portland Timbers' playoff hopes -

Chara vs. COL (Oct. 16, 2016)

Baer: David Guzman could prove crucial to Portland Timbers' playoff hopes -

It's always a good idea to be wary of just a single game, but with Chara now free to roam and break up potential attacks further from the goal, Portland’s defensive woes from last season could well be be diminished.

On Friday, the Timbers' attack starred against the Loons, but Guzman’s subtle performance could prove to be a bigger reason the Timbers are successful in 2017. 

Stats and heat maps provided by Opta Sports.