Language barrier no excuse for LA’s Brazilian trio

São Paulo loanees integrating with Galaxy despite lack of English

When David Beckham returned to the Home Depot Center in mid-March, he went around the locker room and shook hands with his teammates, most of whom had already played with the former England captain.

The young Brazilian trio of Alex Cazumba, Leonardo and Juninho, though, hadn’t met Beckham before that day.

Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant was asked if the young Brazilians seemed in awe or otherwise star-struck when meeting their hugely popular teammate.

“They didn’t say anything,” Dunivant said. “And even if they did, nobody would understand them anyway.”

While Galaxy players speak fondly about the Brazilians, they can actually speak very little directly to them, at least words and phrases that are understood. The trio of newcomers, however, each debuted against New England last weekend and continued to win over their teammates by displaying their talents.

Leonardo paired with Omar Gonzalez in central defense, while Juninho started in the midfield. Cazumbua replaced Eddie Lewis at left midfield -- a position he’d played only for one week prior -- in the 26th minute.

Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said the trio did well but also have room to grow.

“Leonardo played pretty good,” Donovan said after the victory over the Revs. “Alex played pretty well. He has to get used to the pace here. It’s different than playing in where he’s used to playing, in Brazil. Juninho had some moments where he was good and creative. He’s going to get better as time goes on.”

While the trio of newcomers speaks only Portuguese, they are each taking English classes. But while the long-term prospects of picking up a second language seem bright, the short-term necessity for improving their ability to communicate is pressing.

On the backline, Gonzalez said he tried to do his part by communicating in a familiar language.

“We just learned like 10 words that are necessary,” explained Gonzalez. “Drop, go forward, step, man coming. That’s the main thing we have to know. Other than that, it’s soccer.”

However, when asked if he’d learned those words in Portuguese or if his teammates had learned those phrases in English, Gonzalez said neither.

“I just speak to them in Spanish,” he said.

Portuguese and Spanish are similar and has been a combination seen before at the HDC. In 2005, the Galaxy brought in Brazilians Marcelo Saragosa and Paulo Nagamura, and each player was bilingual. Both often fielded questions in Spanish. Nagamura picked up English when he was in the Arsenal youth system in London.

But speaking in Spanish is only a quick fix way to get a point across, and even then it’s not ideal.

“A lot of guys speak Spanish and we can communicate that way,” said Donovan, “but when you’re on the field, you speak English words that come natural. They need to learn at least basic words so we can move forward.”

For those who don’t know a lot of Spanish or Portuguese, there are still ways to communicate. Explained Galaxy forward Edson Buddle, “Sign language. Point. With Internet now, it’s easy to communicate.”

But Buddle said he’s not concerned about a language barrier on or off the field. Not having the ability to communicate with Cazumba, Leonardo and Juninho directly hasn’t exactly made the trio outcasts.

“I went down [to Brazil] once and there are soccer fields everywhere,” Buddle said, “so it’s easy for them to adjust. The game is a universal language and they fit in quite well. The personalities help also. They’re personable even though they don’t know English.”

Buddle actually has a vested interest in the trio’s English classes.

“I want to go to Carnival one day,” he said, “so I hope they can speak English before I go down.”