CARSON, Calif. – The The LA Galaxy are looking for more, and for better, from nearly everyone this season, but most of all from Juninho.
The fifth-year midfielder's production took a precipitous dip, with just one goal – a curling free kick against Seattle in September – after he netted 15, 11 of them in league play, the previous two seasons.
He and fellow Brazilian Marcelo Sarvas share the duties in the middle, but it was Sarvas, who contributed four goals and six assists, who took on most of the attacking duties last year, and head coach Bruce Arena wants to see Juninho going farther forward in 2014.
What Arena most wants, he says, is “consistency.”
“Juninho's a good player, but he was very inconsistent last year,” Arena said ahead of LA's opener Saturday night at StubHub Center against Real Salt Lake (10:30 pm ET, watch FREE on MLS Stream of the Week). “I think he's at a point now where he's about had his best preseason. So he's shown a lot of progress over the last couple of weeks, and we're hopeful he starts the season off well.
“He didn't start 2013 off well. He started rather poorly and was up and down throughout the year, so we need a consistent amount of play out of him this year.”
Juninho, 25, who first arrived in 2010 on loan from São Paulo and was acquired fully in February 2012, served as deputy to David Beckham his first three years with the Galaxy, filling the gaps as the English star roamed wherever he chose and and showing off a lethal shot from distance.
He seemed deferential last year to the older, more experienced Sarvas, whose game is similar to Juninho's, and his lack of production contributed to an atrophied Galaxy attack. With additions up front and on the flanks providing greater offensive diversity this year, he has been asked by Arena to contribute more.
“I spoke to Bruce about that,” Juninho said, “and Bruce told me to go more forward and be closer to the [forward] guys and create opportunities for us.”
Sarvas, who was the key connecting player for LA last year, says that won't change things a whole lot.
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“Juni going forward a little bit more, it's good,” he said. “We can play side by side, or when he goes, I stay – this is the same. We didn't have a rule last year that say, 'Juni, you have to stay and, Marcelo, you can go,' it was the game and it was the situation that happened during the game.
“But it's good that he has in his mind to go more and to score goals and be close to goal. I'm very happy for that.”
Arena wants to see more, too, from Sarvas, who might have been the most important player on a team that produced, in Robbie Keane, an MLS MVP finalist.
“There's no greater competitor than him on the field,” Arena said. “His work ethic is tremendous. I would like to see his passing get a little bit better and [that he] statistically be a little bit better.”