TUCSON, Ariz. – Even though it was a 3-1 loss against New England in the Desert Diamond Cup, Saturday night's game for the New York Red Bulls was another step in the right direction for new Brazilian midfielder Juninho Pernambucano.
He may have only played 45 minutes in the match against the New England Revolution, but it didn't take him long to impress. He scored a on a powerful and precise first-time blast in the 11th minute.
But it isn't just goalscoring prowess that the team is seeking from the former Lyon and Vasco da Gama player.
"In the first half, Juninho was a pleasure to watch," said Red Bulls manager Mike Petke. "Forget about what he does with the ball. It's his awareness defensively, his movements defensively, to close down space, to be the first to the ball."
"Getting a hold of the ball, his vision," Petke continued. "Linking up with Thierry [Henry], [Fabián] Espíndola and [Tim] Cahill. It was nice to watch."
Juninho nearly scored a second goal late in the first half off a free kick.
"It was a little taste for people to watch," Petke said of the attempt from his dead-ball specialist.
"He's an elite player," said RBNY goalkeeper Luis Robles. "The leadership and experience he brings to the field you could see in the first half. He dictates the play, he brings that type of steadiness that elite players bring. I think he's going to be great for us in the future."
The Red Bulls continue their Desert Diamond Cup campaign on Wednesday with a match against the Seattle Sounders (9 pm ET, live stream on MLSsoccer.com).