CARSON, Calif. – Juninho has given up on his childhood dream, traded it in for something more promising, and he says he couldn't be happier. Except for the dog.
The Brazilian midfielder, a key contributor the past three seasons while on loan from São Paulo FC, is a full-time fixture for the Galaxy after the two-time defending MLS Cup champs acquired him permanently in a transfer last month. And although the move killed the chances he'd play regularly with the South American giants, Juninho thinks it was a worthy trade-off.
“Because I don't play there too much, and I have a lot of opportunity [with LA]," said the 24-year-old, who increasingly conducts his interviews in English. "And here, Bruce [Arena] has given me all the support. I love here and I play a lot of minutes along these years, and I'm happy I'll be here.”
WATCH: Best of Juninho
Juninho, who arrived last Thursday night in Southern California to start preparations for 2013, is working on fitness – running, mostly – and hopes to be working with the ball by the end of the week.
He has been a first-choice central midfielder for the Galaxy since arriving on loan in 2010, making 106 competitive first-team starts in three seasons – 96 of them in MLS games – and scoring 17 goals, including several spectacular long-range blasts. With David Beckham gone, he figures to partner in the middle with fellow Brazilian Marcelo Sarvas, his closest friend on the team.
Arena says it's nice “that we don't have to worry every year whether he's coming back or not,” and he was surprised negotiations with the Brazilian club were so simple.
“Our past experiences were it wasn't going to be easy,” Arena said, “but it turned out to be something that made sense for both clubs. ... São Paulo is a club with a lot of talented players, and sometimes they can't keep everybody. We were fortunate to create a relationship where we were able to get Juni here.”
São Paulo's lure is strong, and defender Leonardo – he transferred to the Galaxy last year after spending two seasons with LA on loan from the club – knows how difficult it was for Juninho to make his decision.
“Every Brazilian player wants to grow up, win championships in Brazil, play professionally in Brazil, and then go on to Europe,” Leonardo said through a translator. “I think Juninho has much more opportunity here. He's very important to this club, and he has a lot of fans here. There's more opportunity to start his career here, win championships – something he's already done – then go do other things.”
Juninho said he expected “to play over there” after signing a contract extension with São Paulo in December 2011, but he returned to LA on loan last year after failing to crack the Brazilian side's first team. Now he says Southern California is home, and he's looking into acquiring a green card.
“I bring all my family, all my stuff, my wife's dog, everything to come here for my fourth year,” he said. “[The dog is a] Yorkshire terrier, Julie. I don't like the dog too much, but I don't have a choice. I bring everything. I have to bring the dog also.”
Scott French covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com