CARSON, Calif. – Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan might be the creative forces and fellow Designated Player Omar Gonzalez the defensive foundation, but it's Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas who make the LA Galaxy go.
The Brazilian center midfielders are the two-time defending champions' engine room, and their connection – what Sarvas calls their “chemic” – is central to all the Galaxy will achieve this year, and everyone with the club knows it.
“They just cover so much ground, the two of them, and they have a really good understanding [of each other],” Donovan said ahead of Thursday's Western Conference Semifinal second leg at Real Salt Lake (9 pm ET; ESPN2, TSN2).
"They pride themselves on doing all the little things that make a team successful. They don't need recognition, they don't need glory. They just come in and do their job every day. There's no question we wouldn't be where we are without the two of them.”
They're both ball-winning midfielders with a knack for attack and pivotal figures as LA have evolved from a counterattacking side into one that wants to emphasize possession. Sarvas has been the more fervent attacker this year – Juninho's numbers are down, just one goal, as he's taken on more of a holding role – but it's how they work in tandem that makes it all come together for the Galaxy.
“The way we think about soccer, it's mostly the same,” said Sarvas, who has started all but one league game in his second season with LA. “I think our background in soccer makes us understand: One [does] one movement, the other is doing another movement, and it's natural for us.
“It's like when you're married or something like that. It's just 'chemic' and just [works]. Sometimes you can train for years and it doesn't get the same chemic. So you find two players that have a good chemic. There is no secret. To be honest, there is no secret.”
Juninho, 24, and Sarvas, 32, began working on the chemistry when David Beckham wasn't on the field last year, and they've teamed up for 29 competitive matches this year, 25 in league play. They're close friends, and their families socialize away from the field.
On the field, they're “yin and yang,” suggests associate head coach Dave Sarachan, dividing up ground almost by osmosis, continually swapping duties, Sarvas says, by “just looking at each other.”
“When you play two men in the midfield, that's still a lot of space to cover,” Sarachan said. “I think although maybe Marcelo's a little more of a hunter of the ball, [they have done well with] the sharing of space and understanding when to close down opponents, when to step and put pressure on people.”
Sarvas led the league in fouls, committing 80, and was cautioned nine times. “He's always a pest, always getting around [opposing] players and winning the ball,” Todd Dunivant said.
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Juninho has been deferential, as he was when he partnered Beckham, filling whatever void, whichever role, is needed. “He's done a terrific job working with Marcelo and letting Marcelo sort of probe forward a little more,” said Donovan. “He just sits in there and does what is asked of him.”
They provide the foundation.
“Every game they're running so much, they're making up plays, they're breaking up plays,” Gonzalez said. “Not much happens without involving those two. They're in the middle of everything. Without those two, it'd be tough winning games.”