New York Red Bulls' Juninho to feature vs. DC United, but playing time unclear

Juninho Pernambucano Red Bulls

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UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – New York Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke expects Juninho to be healthy enough to contribute in this weekend’s match against D.C. United (12:30 pm ET, NBC, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).

In what capacity that happens is not yet clear, though.

Petke told reporters on Thursday that Juninho had recovered from the left calf strain that had sidelined him for much of the past week and that the Brazilian midfielder would play against New York’s biggest rivals on Saturday afternoon.

He wasn't sure, however, if Juninho would be able to start and go the distance given that he just returned to practice on Wednesday.

“The thing that we have to look at is if we’re not 100 percent sure that he’s ready for 90 minutes, I’m not sure it’s a situation I want to start him in,” said Petke. “Perhaps he could be a better option coming off the bench. But nothing has been decided yet. … Where he’s going to fit in is something that will be determined in the next 24 hours.”

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If Juninho does play against United, the match would mark his second in MLS. The 38-year-old played all 90 minutes in the Red Bulls’ season-opening draw with the Portland Timbers, but missed out on the recent loss to the San Jose Earthquakes due to calf injury.

Still, Juninho has already come away impressed with the team though he admits there is some work to be done.

“Both games were good,” said the Brazilian veteran. “The team was a lot better in the first halves but we dropped the tempo in the second halves. It could be that we obviously had logistical problems about trying to leave on Fridays and not being able to and having go on Saturdays, so that could have had an impact.

“But I still think the team is still preparing to be at its best physical state. We have a lot of technical players but we might be missing a little bit of speed on the wings. It feels like we have a great group and a great team and it’s a long season. Personally, I’m happy to be here and feel good about the group.”

Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.