LA's Donovan: Juninho deserved No. 1 rank in 24 Under 24
CARSON, Calif. -- Give Juninho a little space, and he's going to make you pay. That shouldn't be a secret any longer, but the Brazilian midfielder sure taught Toronto FC a lesson in the LA Galaxy's victory Saturday night at the Home Depot Center.
He scored twice in LA's 4-2 triumph -- his sixth and seventh in his last seven starts in all competitions -- and, like most of the goals he fills the net with, they were beautiful.
Juninho curled a free kick toward the upper-right corner to give the Galaxy an 11th-minute lead, nearly added to it with a 22-yard blast that Toronto goalkeeper Freddy Hall parried off the top of the crossbar, then rocketed a 32-yard beauty into the upper-left corner from a Landon Donovan feed in the 33rd. He nearly volleyed home a Donovan free kick to the left post in the second half, too.
“He's incredible. And you can see, it's not just the goals,” left back Todd Dunivant said. “The way he's playing, the way he's spraying the ball, the confidence that he has, the bite he has on defense. I think it's everything.”
It's true, Juninho is contributing in a variety of ways -- he's expert at providing whatever's needed in midfield, but takes a greater attacking role when David Beckham is sidelined -- but it's the goals that his legacy is being built upon: dipping, long-range screamers that leave the crowd gasping and foes grasping for answers.
“Juninho's obviously on a terrific run,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “The free kick was a terrific free kick and the goal in the run of play was awesome, simply outstanding.”
Toronto FC coach Paul Mariner agreed.
“The second goal, for me, was a tremendous goal,” he said. “You can criticize our players by saying they didn't close him down, but it was a dipping, wonderful strike, and you've got to hold your hand up at times like that.”
How good was it? Not as good as the Fourth of July strike two years ago against Seattle, Juninho said. That one was from greater distance and angle. Not as meaningful as the long-range blast to beat Motagua and send the Galaxy through to the quarterfinals in the CONCACAF Champions League a year ago.
“They all look the same, right?” Mike Magee said. “Every time he scores a goal, it's like déjà vu. I don't know which one was better, but it's actually bizarre, the streak that he's on.”
Said Dunivant: “It's not a fluke. I mean, he does it all the time. I wouldn't give him any space, especially right now.”
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At some point, Landon Donovan noted, teams will stop giving him the space to shoot anywhere inside, oh, 40 yards or so. “And that’s going to open up a lot of space. If they don’t step to him, he can just keep scoring, and we’re happy with that.”
How good is Juninho? He was sixth in MLSsoccer.com's annual “24 Under 24” survey, a placement that irked his Galaxy teammates no end.
“That's a joke, we all know that,” Donovan said. “He's by far the best player on that list. There's no question.”
Scott French covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com.