CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy’s rapid rise from the depths of the Western Conference and into the thick of the MLS playoff race can be attributed to a number of factors, some that are obvious and others that perhaps require a bit more study.
For one, there is the combined play of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, who have combined for 10 goals and 10 assists in the last eight games and have helped the Galaxy tie Vancouver for fourth place in the West, just three points behind third-place Seattle Sounders FC and five in back of second-place Real Salt Lake.
But there is a more subtle reason that helps explain the Galaxy’s improved play of late, one that has to do with a midfield featuring a pair of Brazilians, Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas. With David Beckham missing several games because of yellow card accumulation and Olympic obligations in London, Juninho and Sarvas have been giving head coach Bruce Arena the kind of midfield play he has been seeking since the Galaxy was wallowing in last place in the West.
Including a 2-0 win at Chicago on July 8, the Galaxy are 5-1-2 in their last eight games with a 4-1-1 mark when Juninho and Sarvas each start in midfield, including a 3-0-1 record when they are paired together in central midfield.
“I think they’ve played well,” Arena said. “We’ve got to try and find the right balance in our team and get the right group in the midfield and help us continue to move forward.”
The pairing of Juninho and Sarvas wasn’t a match that clicked right away, however. They didn’t celebrate their first victory as starters in the same game until June 17, a 1-0 victory over Portland. But they’ve impressed their teammates lately.
“I think everyone’s meshing well of late,” fellow midfielder Mike Magee said, “and those two are no exceptions. I think Marcelo, the minute he steps on the field, he’s definitely kind of in a different class of late and he’s definitely raised his level of play. Once he found his stride he’s been cruising.
“And Juni? He’s been great for however long he’s been here.”
Sarvas first caught the Galaxy’s attention in last year’s CONCACAF Champions League as a member of Costa Rican side Alajuelense and signed with the defending MLS Cup champions during the offseason. Juninho, an MLS All-Star last year, is in his third season on loan from Sao Paulo but almost didn’t return to Los Angeles. Only after lengthy negotiations at the start of preseason did the Galaxy and the Brazilian side come to terms that would allow Juninho rejoin the MLS Cup champs.
Both players say they can feel their pairing starting to jell.
“I think we are doing well,” Sarvas said. “You see with the communication, the way we are thinking during the games, the way we talk.
“It’s hard to replace David (Beckham) because everybody knows that he’s important for this team, but when me and Juni are in midfield we did very well. We create chances, we defend well. I think we are doing a very good job.”
Juninho called Sarvas an ideal leader.
“Latinos are very passionate, and Marcelo is always motivating players on the field to do more,” he said through an interpreter.
“He’s not afraid to go out there and show that passion.
“All of the midfielders that we have on this team are very talented. For Marcelo and I things tend to be a little more easy because we’re from the same country. The fact that David went to the Olympics created an opportunity for us to play, and that definitely helped us work together.”