Dario Zuparic has not been a player who draws big headlines. He became the Portland Timbers’ first offseason acquisition leading up to this year when he was officially signed in Nov. 2019. Since then the only time he has been hailed a hero was when he poked home the winner in the MLS is Back Tournament against Orlando.
Zuparic has quietly been a consistent starter throughout the season for Portland. He is not someone who makes audacious challenges or scores a lot of goals. But he is someone who you can always count on.
The center back does what he needs to do and he makes it look simple without any fanfare. Zuparic has arguably been the Timbers’ best defender this year. He commands the backline and is there to cover for his team if anyone gets caught out of position.
Zuparic doesn’t just pass the eye test. The stats back up his good performances as well. He has completed nine of his 14 attempted tackles and has made eight interceptions. He is also averaging 5.8 clearances and 1.7 blocks per game.
These stats are encouraging, and his performances have been even better than the stats suggest. But his best characteristic as a player is that he can always be found on the team sheet, whether he is playing three games in one week or in another country. Zuparic has always been reliable.
Zuparic has started in 14 of the Timbers’ 18 matches this year, serving as the constant leader of the back line. The center back’s reliability is nothing new and is surely one of the reasons Portland signed him, given the defensive injury concerns last season. In the 2010-11 season, Zuparic made his professional debut for Croatian side Cibalia. He made two substitute appearances, clocking 29 minutes.
In the next season, Zuparic broke into the team. He started 22 matches and played a total of 1,983 minutes. Zuparic transformed into a stalwart for his team. He started 32 matches the next season and registered 2,880 minutes for the Croatian club.
He eventually moved to the Italian second division side Pescara, where in three seasons he started 82 of his 90 matches played and helped his team secure promotion to Serie A. Zuparic only played 340 minutes in Serie A before being loaned back to Rijeka in Croatia.
Zuparic arrived in Croatia midseason and proceeded to start 11 matches and help Rijeka to the Croatian league title. Throughout the next two seasons and part of a third, the central defender started 77 matches and recorded 6,821 minutes. Zuparic was at Rijeka during the 2019-20 season until the winter break when he signed for the Timbers and arrived in Portland.
The Croatian has already recorded 1,244 minutes this year and has not only proven himself as a good defender, but someone Giovanni Savarese can always call upon. Zuparic will still need to be rotated and others will have to step up in his position if the Timbers are to keep the center back fit and in good form during such an abnormal season. But Zuparic has fit into the Timbers seamlessly, and at only 28 years old, should grow into an important leader of the back line and of the whole team.
Stats retrieved from FBref.com