CARSON, Calif. – It would be easy to overlook LA Galaxy midfielder Juninho. After all, he's relatively diminutive and unassuming on the field.
But a defender overlooks him at his peril. The quiet Brazilian can knife through an opposing defense with a perfectly weighted pass and suddenly not be so quiet anymore.
While he makes as much noise as a purring cat, Juninho has been one of the most influential players on the league's best regular-season team. Juninho's presence in the middle of the field has been instrumental in the Galaxy's rise to the top of the league.
Not bad for someone who hadn't experienced much outside of his native Brazil before 2010.
"For me, it was my first experience outside the country, and I’m very happy and pleased with the opportunity," said the 21-year-old São Paulo FC loanee. "I hope I can show everything I know every day and every game, which is very important for me, as it’s a great team.
"I hope to make you all happy here showing my football, not only for the Galaxy, but to the whole world."
Juninho has won over his teammates and the Galaxy coaching staff with his stellar — and improving — play in the middle of the field. Teammates rave about the Brazilian midfielder's ability to hit a potent long-range shot or the manner in which he carves up his opponents, both during training sessions and in games.
For his first year as an attack-minded midfielder, Juninho's future is seemingly bright, particularly with a year's experience under his belt.
"He understands what this league’s about," Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. "He has a little better feel for his job. He’s been primarily a defensive midfielder in his days at São Paulo. We give him a little more leeway and direction to go forward and play-make a little bit. It takes a little time, but I think he’s done very well."
Juninho has two goals this season, but each was an outstanding strike. His first MLS goal was on July 4 in a 3-1 win over Seattle. Early in the second half, Juninho rifled a 25-yard bomb past Kasey Keller [WATCH]. Then, in the season finale, he hammered a shot on goal that was far too lethal for FC Dallas' Dario Sala to stop. The ball banged off Sala and into the back of the net. The goal would stand as the match-winner in a 2-1 victory that handed the Galaxy the Supporters' Shield [WATCH].
Though he may not have expected to provide such critical play, Juninho said his goal when joining the Galaxy was to prove his worth.
"When they contracted me and brought me here, I felt that I would be able to contribute in some form and that, in some way, I would be able to fit into the team on the pitch," Juninho said.
At the beginning of his spell with the Galaxy, both Juninho and his new teammates had problems with each other — Juninho couldn’t understand them, nor could they understand Juninho, if he talked at all.
But he can mostly hold his own now on the field and has picked up enough English — and Spanish — to communicate off the field as well, though he mostly spends time with fellow São Paulo natives Leonardo and Alex Cazumba.
In fact, having two other players in the same situation join Juninho on his journey helped ease the transition.
“All three coming was very important, I think, as I didn’t speak any English, and my experience with the other players here would be difficult,” Juninho said. “I wanted to give my opinion, and many times I couldn’t, so the others coming was quite important so that I wouldn’t feel so alone, and today I speak a little English and Spanish, which helps a lot, and is more important for my getting along.”
As the season is still in the balance — the Galaxy enter Sunday’s match against Seattle with a 1-0 aggregate-goals lead in their Western Conference Semifinal series — Juninho said whether or not he returns to Brazil is something that will be decided in due time.
“This is a decision we’ll have to make after the season, and it’s not for me to decide," he said. "For starters, it’s up to the Galaxy, if they are still interested, and São Paulo, if they want to keep me here. So I want to have a good campaign in MLS and, hopefully, after the season, this will be resolved in the best manner possible.”
The Galaxy are ahead 1-0 on aggregate goals in the series and host Seattle in the second game of the two-leg, home-and-home Western Conference Semifinals on Sunday, November 7 at 6 p.m. PT on ESPN. BUY TICKETS
With a win or tie on Sunday, they will host the Western Conference Championship at The Home Depot Center on Sunday, November 14 at 6 p.m. BUY TICKETS
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