CARSON, Calif. – While he was not exactly an unknown commodity in 2010, Juninho only revealed a portion of himself to his LA Galaxy coaches and teammates.
He’s no longer holding back, though. The talent that was often unleashed in training but not as often duplicated in MLS games has now been exposed to the rest of Major League Soccer. Juninho has scored two goals in as many games this season, each coming off an impressive long-range strike.
It was never a question of talent with Juninho, teammates said, but rather having the confidence and poise to be more aggressive during games.
“We’ve encouraged him to be more aggressive, to take more chances going forward, shoot the ball more,” Landon Donovan said. “He’s done a great job contributing that way.”
Juninho played a significant role in the team’s midfield in 2010, having played 25 regular-season games. However, he often passed up opportunities to test the opposing ‘keeper. That’s not the case in this young season.
“He’s showing that he’s a more dangerous player in and around the penalty area as well,” said Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena. “Overall, he’s been very good on both sides of the ball. He just looks like a more mature player at this point.”
Juninho has accounted for both of the Galaxy’s goals this year and has helped LA get four points off the bat. He has quickly settled into a fixture in the midfield once more. That he’s gotten off to a quick start isn’t necessarily surprising either.
“He came in really sharp and he’d been training with São Paulo for awhile before he got here,” Donovan said. “Through the preseason he’s been as consistent as anybody.”
Fitness was an issue a year ago, despite Juninho’s 2,006 minutes played in 2010. This year, the Brazilian has also come into camp stronger.
“He’s fitter,” Arena said. “I think last year he really struggled to play 90 minutes effectively. He has that. He’s maturing physically. He’s still young, 22 years old. He knows the league, knows the players and he’s doing a better job of getting forward.”
If he continues to break through and take long-range shots, Juninho could add a different wrinkle to the club’s attack and help round out the team’s offense.
“It makes it more difficult when teams put a lot more emphasis on David and [me], when he gets forward and can be effective in that way,” Donovan said. “It makes it difficult to defend us.”