Bringing Juninho back integral for LA's title aspirations
CARSON, Calif. – When Marcelo Sarvas joined the Galaxy, one of the first things he said was that he was not going to try and replace Juninho.
Turns out, he was correct in a way few could have guessed.
Juninho will return to the Galaxy on loan for a third season, the club announced on Tuesday. The 23-year-old Brazilian had gone back to São Paulo FC after signing a new contract with the club that had loaned him to the Galaxy over the past two seasons, but he will re-join the MLS Cup champions for the 2012 campaign after all.
“We’ve been in discussions to try and bring him back and we were successful in doing that,” Arena told reporters on Tuesday.
So it turns out Sarvas will play with Juninho after all, and the two may even battle it out for playing time in the heart of the LA Galaxy midfield.
The Galaxy now have seemingly an embarrassment of riches in central midfield. David Beckham spent most of his time a year ago in the central midfield and now has Juninho and Sarvas there. Michael Stephens has spent time with the US Under-23 national team in the offseason while Arena has been high on Dan Keat since he drafted him in the 2011 Supplemental Draft. The club also added 2012 draft picks Kenney Walker and Rafael Garcia to the mix.
Arena insisted there will be plenty of opportunities for everyone to get their share of minutes.
“With the CONCACAF Champions League and Sarvas cup-tied, it’s important to have Juninho here,” Arena said. “Beckham and possibly Stephens could be gone to the Olympics, we need that position to be a position with depth and quality and I think we have that now.”
Continuity is important for the Galaxy, and bringing Juninho is significant in that regard.
“We want to keep as many of the players together from last year, and getting Juni back is a big thing for us,” Beckham told reporters.
With Juninho playing defensive midfield so well, Beckham was free to roam and create chances with crosses and through-balls. Having the Brazilian in the mix once more will be noteworthy in more ways than that, though.
“Not just for me, but obviously for the team,” Beckham said. “[Juninho] scored important goals at vital times throughout the season. His overall performance ... he’s grown into a mature player over the last couple of years."
In two seasons in LA, Juninho has blossomed into one of the top defensive midfielders in all the league. Having signed a three-year deal with São Paulo, Juninho was likely hoping to compete for playing time. That he was unable to get minutes with the South American giants is not a knock on Juninho.
“They have a very deep team and a very good team," Arena said. "It’s probably the best team in Brazil right now. It probably wasn’t likely he was going to see a whole lot of time.”
Also coming back is Leonardo. Unlike Juninho, the big center back joins the Galaxy for good, having arrived on a free transfer. Leonardo tore knee ligaments after starting each of the first seven games of 2011, and when he will return is yet unknown.
“Once we see him again – he left in early December – we’ll see how he’s improved in his ... rehabilitation on his knee,” Arena said. “If he’s making the kind of progress we think he has made, we should be able to get him back in April.”
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.