TORONTO – The LA Galaxy reached the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals because of more than just one player, but perhaps the most important member of the team’s run to the knockout rounds was Juninho. He scored a pair of massive goals in the group stage, first in a 2-1 win over Morelia and then the only goal in a critical 1-0 win over Motagua in Honduras.
Those goals are just part of the package Juninho has brought to the Galaxy in his first two seasons – a defensive bite in the middle of the field, solid ball distribution and a potent shot from distance. While he can score goals, that has not been his primary concern. Still, Juninho is the lone Galaxy player with more than one goal in Champions League play.
And as fate would have it, the unheralded Brazilian will be around to help finish what he set in motion following a period of uncertainty, after it looked like he was making a permanent move back to his homeland in the offseason.
“I’m happy, I came to help my team,” he said. “We have a very good group. Everybody is concentrating for the game and [whoever] scores it’s very important.”
Juninho returns to LA
In these quarterfinals, the Galaxy have the opportunity to continue making history and stay on their path towards international glory. While Wednesday’s match in Toronto (8pm ET/5pm PT, FOX Soccer, concacaf.com, lagalaxy.com/gamedaylive) would be the just the first of six games LA would have to play to claim the ultimate prize, the significance of it is not lost on the players.
“Galaxy always does everything to win; we have great players and a great team, and it has been a while since an American team has won CONCACAF,” Juninho said. “We have an opportunity in front of us to make history: to put Galaxy in the Club World Cup. We all know what is at stake.”
That he is even here in the first place is a bit of a surprise. A native of Sao Paulo, Juninho returned to his hometown club to continue on a path he’d always longed for – to play with the Paulistas’ first team.
“My thoughts were to stay there in Brazil and play for the first team,” he said. “But the manager did not know me very well – the president and front office did. There were a lot of players in my position – players who had played in Europe and returned to Sao Paulo and a lot of young, good players, too. I trained hard, hoping for a chance but after five games I made the decision to return and play.”
Juninho said that while the Galaxy has been a good experience, Sao Paulo tugs at his heartstrings.
“[The Galaxy] had made me an offer to stay here but it’s complicated. I have a dream to play in the first team there [with Sao Paulo]. Since I was little and in the academy, it’s been a dream of mine to make it there,” he said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.”
His future, at least for 2012, is in MLS. But he said the door is wide open afterward.
“Here, it went well too, I was able to play and we have a good team,” he said. “But we’ll see how it goes this year. My loan is for only one year, so I hope to play well here this year, but after that who knows.”
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.