Juninho returns to champion Galaxy
CARSON, Calif. -- Juninho, so crucial to the Los Angeles Galaxy's championship run last year, is coming back to L.A.
The club announced Tuesday morning that it has reached an agreement with Sao Paulo on another loan deal for the 23-year-old Brazilian midfielder, who last month signed a new deal with his parent club, began training with its first team and expressed sadness that he would not be returning to the Galaxy.
Juninho, who first arrived on loan in 2010 and claimed a starting job last season, bolsters a midfield made more dynamic by the acquisitions of fellow Brazilian Marcelo Sarvas, picked up from Costa Rican power Alajuelense to replace Juninho, and former UCLA All-American Kyle Nakazawa, traded from Philadelphia.
The Galaxy also acquired center back Leonardo, who also has been on loan from Sao Paulo the past two seasons, in a free transfer. Leonardo, 24, had been expected to rejoin L.A. on loan.
Scott French covers the Southern California soccer scene and beyond for ESPNLA.com.
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Juninho, a two-way midfielder, ably partnered with David Beckham in central midfield last year, providing a foundation that enabled the Galaxy's biggest star to offer his most commanding performance in his first five years in MLS.
His arrival leaves the Galaxy with a wealth of options in the middle of midfield, with Beckham, Sarvas and Juninho expected to win the majority of time on the field. L.A.'s midfield could be the most talented in MLS, perhaps ever.
"We'll see. Who knows?" Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. "We'll see when the season starts and games matter how that adds up, but with the CONCACAF Champions League and Sarvas being cup-tied [unable to play for the Galaxy because he played in the competition for Alajuelense], it's important having Juninho here.
"With the season going, where Robbie [Keane, a striker] leaves for the European Championship, where Beckham and possibly [Michael] Stephens could be gone for Olympics, we need that position to be a position with depth and quality, and I think we have that now."
Juninho started 30 league games, three MLS playoff matches and five CONCACAF Champions League games last season, scoring huge goals -- including a stoppage-time winner against Morelia and the lone goal at Motagua that sent L.A. to the Champions League quarterfinals. He had six goals and two assists in 44 first-team games across all competitions plus friendlies. He made 28 MLS starts, playoffs included, in 2010.
Leonardo started the first seven games last season before suffering torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments that he is still rehabbing. Arena last month said he expected the Brazilian defender to be ready to play in April.
The Galaxy have 30 signed players, the maximum, on its roster, plus eight unsigned draft picks and trialists. March 1 is the roster-compliance date.
Scott French covers soccer for ESPNLosAngeles.com.