CARSON, Calif. – Club Tijuana's visit for Tuesday night's friendly at StubHub Center offers the LA Galaxy a chance to catch up with Juninho, who so expertly manned central midfield for the MLS power the past six seasons.
Or maybe not.
The Brazilian standout, who transferred in December to Club Tijuana, said in a news conference Monday in Baja California that he was looking forward to taking part in the clash, but he's not on the Xolos' travel list after playing nearly the full 90 minutes in Friday's Liga MX draw with Cruz Azul and ahead of Saturday's visit to UANL Tigres.
That's no surprise to Leonardo, the Galaxy's last remaining Brazilian, who arrived with Juninho in 2010 from Sao Paulo FC.
“I don't know [if he'll play], because I watched the game last Friday, [and] he played 90 minutes,” Leonardo said after LA's training session Monday at StubHub. “If I know Tijuana, I think he don't come here with the first team. They're [going to] bring the reserve team.
“I'd like him to, to see him, but I think he's not coming.”
That'll be a shame for the Galaxy and their fans, who have great passion for Juninho, who totaled 24 goals and 28 assists in 232 competitive appearances for the club.
'Juni,' as he's affectionately known, was well-liked in Southern California.
“We loved Juni,” forward Alan Gordon said. “We don't just like him. We love him. He's like a brother. And we're all rooting for him.
“It's going to be good to see him. We're all happy for him. We miss him very much, and it's going to be nice to talk to him a little bit.”
One Club Tijuana official said it was possible Juninho would come up for the game anyway, but he's not going to step onto the field. He was in L.A., a little more than two hours north of Tijuana in light traffic, just a week ago.
“We saw Juni last week. He's doing well, had a chance to talk with him and all,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “We're happy that the move was a good one for him, and we're pleased to see he's fitting in there very well.”
Of bigger importance for the Galaxy, Arena said, is to “get a little bit better in everything” and work toward their Feb. 24 opener, a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg against Santos Laguna, who beat Juninho and Tijuana, 3-1, Jan. 22 at Estadio Caliente.
“We're a little bit more than two weeks into [preseason preparations], and yet the clock is ticking, because we're about two weeks out from playing Santos Laguna,” Arena said.
“So we have to continue to accelerate our progress, fitness has to get better, the sharpness has to get better, and we're hopeful that over the next two weeks we can do that.”
Juninho asked for the move primarily for financial reasons.
“For him, it's a very good challenge, very good experience,” Leonardo said. “Obviously, more money, less tax. Maybe no tax. Not as expensive, too. Can save more money. It's good for him.
“It's different [for me]. Now I'm the only Brazilian [at LA]. Marcelo [Sarvas] was here, Samuel, Juni, and now just me. But Tijuana is not far. It's close. He can come here, I can go to Tijuana – or San Diego; I think it's better. He can go to the zoo, I can see his son, he can see my daughter.”
Juninho, when he addressed the media in Tijuana, sure sounded like he planned to make the trek north.
“That's going to be special for myself and my family,” he said. “That's a club that gave me all I have today. I'm sure all my ex-teammates and fans will be there supporting.
“I think I did my best over there, and they know that, and I'm going to go over there wearing a different jersey, but the LA Galaxy is always going to be in my heart.”