New York Red Bulls' Juninho ready to return to lineup after suspension, but may not get nod

UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Juninho’s recent two-game suspension may have given his aging legs a bit of respite after a number of lengthy travels to the start the season, but the New York Red Bulls midfielder does not necessarily view the brief break in a positive light.

Available to play in his first match in about two weeks, Juninho expressed slight concern on Thursday over having lost the rhythm he was getting into prior to being banned for two games for kicking the ball at Jimmy Nielsen in an April 17 loss to Sporting Kansas City.

That stoppage in play may not prevent the Brazilian veteran from being in uniform for the Red Bulls’ road game vs. the Columbus Crew on Saturday (4 pm ET, NBC Sports Network, LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com), but Juninho’s inclusion in the starting lineup seems to be anything but a given after his recent spell on the sidelines.

“It always hurts a little at 38 [years-old] to stop playing and having to go back into form,” Juninho told reporters through a translator. “That’s the part the hurts the most, getting out of that game-shape and form to a certain extent, but I’m very excited to be able to be fit again and help again.”

READ: New York's Ryan Meara getting healthy, but no timetable for first team return

Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke was not willing to reveal if Juninho would get the nod at Crew Stadium, but the rookie manager did say there is a chance he would leave Juninho on the bench and stick with the central tandem of Tim Cahill and Eric Alexander after seeing them help lift New York to a 2-1 road win over Toronto FC this past weekend. Regular starting midfielder Dax McCarty is out due to injury.

“Juninho with the ball at his feet is something that obviously we like, but we haven’t made decisions on who is starting this weekend,” Petke said,” because I also like the pairing of Eric and Tim and the road mentality [they bring]. Whoever is in there, there’s got to be an understanding that both cannot go. … There has to be one guy anchoring the back four and one going [ahead] at times.”

Whether he starts or not, Juninho is happy with the progress he saw from the club in his absence. In the two matches he missed, the Red Bulls picked up a 4-1 win at home against the New England Revolution before being victorious at BMO Field.

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Still, Juninho sees plenty of room for improvement.

“Watching the games, and while I was playing, I feel like the team goes through periods of doing very well and dominating the game and then being dominated a little bit,” said Juninho. “We just need to find that consistency of dominating throughout the 90 minutes and not allowing those negative parts.

“It’s unrealistic to expect a team to completely dominate for 90 minutes, but also there has to be a balance as to predominantly be the ones in possession with the ball and not allow the other teams to try to even come back into it. We’re going in the right direction so that it develops throughout the season and mainly for the playoffs.”