The LA Galaxy announced on Tuesday that the club has reached an agreement with Brazilian club São Paulo FC that will allow midfielder Juninho to return to the Galaxy on loan for the 2012 MLS season.
Additionally, the Galaxy have completed the signing of former São Paulo defender Leonardo, who joins the club permanently on a free transfer. Juninho and Leonardo each played for the Galaxy during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, helping the club repeat as Supporters’ Shield winners and win their third MLS Cup last season. Per club and league policy, terms of the contracts, were not disclosed.
Juninho, who is scheduled to return to Southern California next week ahead of the Galaxy’s preseason trip to Arizona, was an All-Star for the Galaxy last season and has been an ever-present force in the center of the Galaxy midfield over the past two seasons, starting 55 regular-season games as well as six of the club’s seven postseason matches.
One of the breakout stars in MLS last season, the 23-year-old appeared in and started 30 regular-season games for the Galaxy, scoring four goals and adding two assists while combining with David Beckham in the central midfield.
His impact on the field was even more profound in the CONCACAF Champions League, where he scored the game-winning goal in each of LA’s final two games in group play, giving the Galaxy a 2-1 home win over Morelia and a 1-0 win at Motagua, which gave LA a first place finish in Group A.
Following the 2011 MLS season, Juninho signed a contract extension with São Paulo and began training with the club’s first team in early January.
But according to São Paulo FC spokesman Felipe Espindola, manager Emerson Leão determined there would be no room for Juninho on the squad this season due to the number of midfielders currently on the roster. It was judged to be best for the player to arrange for a return to LA.
“Juninho is not going to be utilized at São Paulo [this season] per the coach’s decision and the club is accepting the loan deal for Juninho’s return to Los Angeles to play for the Galaxy,” Espindola told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday.
Leonardo, who turned 24 years old on Sunday, was a key figure in the center of the Galaxy defense at the start of both the 2010 and 2011 seasons, but was limited by injures during his first two seasons with the Galaxy, playing in 17 of the club’s 64 regular-season games in that time.
After appearing in and starting 10 games for the club in 2010, the 6-foot-2 São Paulo native started each of LA’s first seven games in 2011, helping them go 3-1-3 and keep three clean sheets while even scoring the first goal of his MLS career in the 1-0 home win over Philadelphia on April 2.
However, late in the club’s 2-1 win in Chicago on April 17, Leonardo suffered a severe right knee injury, tearing both the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and lateral collateral ligament (LCL), which forced him to undergo surgery and miss the remainder of the season. He has been continuing his rehabilitation throughout the offseason and will return to Los Angeles on Tuesday night in order to move forward with his rehabilitation as he approaches a return to full fitness.