CARSON, Calif. -- The LA Galaxy’s Juninho seems to have a flair for the dramatic in CONCACAF Champions League play and was at it again when the team needed him the most Thursday.
The Brazilian midfielder, whose goal last Oct. 20 gave the Galaxy a victory on the road over Honduras’ Motagua that clinched the top spot in their group, scored two goals in the final eight minutes on Thursday, including one in extra time, for a wild 5-2 victory over El Salvador’s Isidro Metapan in LA’s Group 5 opener of the Champions League at The Home Depot Center.
The Galaxy were clinging to a 3-1 lead late in the second half when they were forced to play the final 20 minutes a man down after Robbie Keane was mysteriously sent off, only for Juninho to help break the game open.
He gave the Galaxy a little breathing room and made it 4-1 in the 82nd minute when he broke in on goal with Michael Stephens, received a nice pass from his fellow midfielder and scored easily from less than 10 yards.
After Metapan cut the lead to 4-2 with an 87th minute penalty kick, Juninho scored again, this time in stoppage time when he took a pass from Mike Magee and again had no trouble beating Metapan goalkeeper Fidel Mondragon for the clincher. Juninho celebrated both goals with an impressive back flip.
It is Keane that often does a cartwheel and front somersault after his goals, but Juninho gave an extra touch that would make a gymnast proud.
“He does it forwards, I do it backwards,” Juninho said through an interpreter, referring to Keane’s celebrations. “I’ve done that since I was a little kid.
“On the streets I did it a lot.”
You won’t catch any of his teammates trying his move, however.
“I don’t want to injure myself doing something like that,” Stephens said. “It’s out of my repertoire.”
Said Magee, “I’d break my neck. No chance.”
Stephens said nothing Juninho does, whether it’s accentuating a goal with a back flip or helping solidify the midfield, surprises the Galaxy. And to think the 23-year-old almost didn’t return to the defending MLS Cup champions after he signed a new contract with parent club, Sao Paulo, in January.
But the Galaxy were fortunate to bring him back in February and they certainly were thankful to have him in the lineup Thursday against a Salvadoran side that took a 1-0 lead after 17 minutes before the Galaxy roared back.
Juninho said it was important for the Galaxy to start their Champions League group play on a successful note.
“It’s hard,” he said. “We definitely have to get a lot of points in this tournament. We got off to a slow start (Thursday) but we were able to turn it around and give the fans a good show.”
Back flip and all.