CARSON, Calif. – It remains his goal to play for Sao Paulo of the Brazilian Campeonato, but the LA Galaxy isn’t a bad consolation as far as Juninho is concerned.
His smile, in fact, indicated the native of San Jose dos Campos, Brazil, is as happy as ever.
“Very happy,” he said after he made his first appearance at training this week. “I’m very happy to be back and help make the team stronger.”
Watch: Best of Juninho
The 23-year-old midfielder is coming off an impressive year in which he made 30 regular-season starts, scored four goals and had two assists and was named an MLS All-Star for the first time, although he did not dress for the game against Manchester United.
Juninho, entering his third season in MLS, had signed with Sao Paulo in January and had been training with the first team, but playing time proved to be elusive and he was returned on loan to the Galaxy just two weeks ago.
“He’s come right back and fit in,” head coach Bruce Arena said, “the second he walked into the building. It’s good to have him back. We’ll do our best to get him moving with the group and back on the field.
“I think he’ll get himself up to speed in the next couple of weeks.”
Arena didn’t understate his value to the Galaxy last season, when the club won its third MLS Cup championship. Juninho arguably was at his best during the CONCACAF Champions League, in which he scored the game-winning goals in the final two games of group play to help the Galaxy advance to the quarterfinals, which begin on March 7 in Toronto.
“He’s a very good player for us, no question,” he said. “He scored a few timely goals, played a number of games. He understands his role and he complemented David Beckham quite well. I think this year with the addition of Marcelo (Sarvas) we have potentially a very good midfield.”
Sarvas was signed from Costa Rican club Alajuelense when it became apparent Juninho was heading back to his Brazilian club, but his unexpected return helps make the Galaxy that much stronger.
Juninho, alternating between speaking Spanish through translator/assistant coach Curt Onalfo and displaying a surprisingly good grasp of English, said he likes what he sees this season.
Some observers might argue the Galaxy is overstocked with talent, but Juninho doesn’t see it that way.
“I think it’s better for us,” he said. “There’s good competition.
It’s better for us to have players like this.”
The 5-foot-7, 145-pounder said his first season in MLS in 2010 was “complicated,” but having his wife with him in Los Angeles (they were married just last season) has helped make him feel more comfortable in the states.
He also said his fitness is good after training twice a day with the Sao Paulo first team since the first week of January. But he does need playing time, and he figures to get some in this week’s Desert Diamond Cup in Tucson, Ariz.
“I think this will help,” he said. “I am feeling strong to play a lot of games this season.”