GALAXY: Juninho adds to L.A.'s riches
February, 7, 2012
By Scott French | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesThe Galaxy was able to negotiate the return of Juninho after it appeared he was returning to his club team in Brazil.
CARSON -- The Galaxy's unexpected reacquisition of Brazilian midfielder Juninho follows right on the heels of another such arrival, Edson Buddle's. If the past week's big moves have left the club with an abundance of attacking riches, it also has left an unanswered question: How will L.A. get everyone onto the field?
There are certainly enough games to get everyone involved, 41 at the least, and that's if they don't beat Toronto FC in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, fail to advance in the U.S. Open Cup and, somehow, miss Major League Soccer's playoffs next fall.
The Galaxy already had the league's best front six -- complete with Juninho's expected replacement, fellow Brazilian Marcelo Sarvas -- and the return of their chief midfield engine, coming off a spectacular campaign that vaulted him among the league's elite middle men, gives them arguably the best contingent of midfielders America has seen since the old North American Soccer League's glory days.
L.A. announced Tuesday morning that it had, after a good deal of negotiation, extended Juninho's loan deal from São Paulo for a third season and signed center back Leonardo, who was with the Galaxy the past two seasons on loan from the Brazilian club, on a free transfer.
Leonardo, 24, who continues to rehabilitate torn knee ligaments that sidelined him most of next season, had been expected to return on loan. Juninho, 23, appeared to be gone after re-signing last month with São Paulo and joining the club's first team.
“We've obviously been in discussions to try to bring him back,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said after his team's 4-1 loss to the Portland Timbers in a preseason game Tuesday at Home Depot Center. “And we've been successful in doing that. ... If we thought [back in December] it was going to successful, I don't think we would have lost him going back there initially. It's a series of things that impacted our ability to bring him back.”
One of the biggest: Juninho had not made an 18-man game-day roster in first-place São Paulo's first five matches in the Campeonato Paulista, the spring São Paulo state championship.
“I think [São Paulo has] a very deep team and a very good team, probably the best team in Brazil right now,” Arena said. “It wasn't likely he was going to see a whole lot of time.”
Juninho, David Beckham's partner last year, will arrive later this week or next week, Arena said. Sorting out how the Galaxy will play in midfield will begin in earnest then.
L.A. could play as many as 56 competitive matches in 2012, deep into December [for FIFA's Club World Cup] if it captures the CONCACAF Champions League crown in April.
The Galaxy rarely had their first-choice XI on the field at the same time during last year's run to the MLS Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup titles, and it's unlikely they'll do so a whole lot this year. Rotating the lineup is critical to achieving such success.
They won't be able to use Sarvas nor forward/midfielder Pat Noonan, another new arrival, in the Champions League -- they've already appeared in the competition, Sarvas for Alajuelense and Noonan for the Seattle Sounders -- and will lose star Irish striker Robbie Keane for the European Championship in late spring and, almost certainly, David Beckham for the London Olympics come July. Versatile third-year midfielder Michael Stephens also could be in London, with the U.S. Olympic team.
The missing players, Arena said, make it “important having Juninho here. ... We need that position [in central midfield] to be a position with depth and quality, and I think we have that now.”
Landon Donovan returns on the right side of midfield and Mike Magee on the left, and the addition of Kyle Nakazawa, in a trade Wednesday from Philadelphia, and returns of three second-year midfielders -- attacker Paolo Cardozo, winger Hector Jimenez and organizer Dan Keat -- provide diverse options.
Juninho, a two-way midfielder, was a perfect foil last year for Beckham. He helped link the attack, did a lot of the midfield dirty work and provided superb support for the English superstar.
“Getting Juni back is a big thing for us ...,” Beckham said. “I said it at the end of last season: He's grown into a mature player over the last couple of years. It was disappointing, obviously, when I arrived back that he wasn't here, but we're all happy to know he's coming back.”
Beckham figures to be partnered by Juninho or Sarvas, who is similar to Juninho but more offensive-minded, with superior vision and passing skills. Becks likes him, too.
“Marcelo, for me, is going to be a great player in this league and for this team,” Beckham said. “I think he's a very talented player -- we saw that when he played against us [in the Champions League]. ... We've got a lot of good players in our team, and it's about getting a good squad, because last year it was that kind of thing that helped us go all the way and win a championship. We need that again this year.”