CARSON, Calif. – In Brazil, the phrase "contar com alguém” is used to describe the ability to trust and depend on one person and no two players on the LA Galaxy embody this expression more than the team's midfield tandem of Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas.
Inseparable on and off the field, the two Brazilians have been key pieces to the team’s success in 2013 that has earned the Galaxy their fifth consecutive appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs. This season, the pair finished first and second on the team in total minutes played for LA with Sarvas on the field for a team-best 2897 minutes in 33 regular season appearances with Juninho trailing close behind with 2770 minutes played in 32 appearances.
Over that considerable span, the pair provided the type of balance—Sarvas being the marauding, two-way midfielder while Juninho plays a mostly defensive role—that has fostered the type of connection that has made them the Galaxy’s engine room in the center of the park.
“Our background in soccer helps understand that when one makes one movement then the other is making another movement. It’s natural. It’s like when you’re married,” said Sarvas. “It’s just [chemical] and you work at it. Sometimes you can train for years and you don’t have the same chemic [connection]. If you find two players with good [chemistry] then it works—there is no secret.”
That "chemical" connection can be seen on the field as the Brazilians have provided a perfect balance on and off the field. Fast friends and neighbors away from the action, in central midfield they're able to manage the game through their simpatico playing styles.
Flashes of their success could be seen in the closing stages of the 2012 season when Sarvas was able to step in during David Beckham’s various absences and provide a different dimension to the Galaxy attack that emphasized a quick passing approach. With Beckham gone, the Brazilians have picked up in 2013 where they left off a year earlier as Juninho settled into a more defensive role that emphasizes sending long balls forward while Sarvas presses around the field harassing opposing forwards and sparking counterattacks.
Such a style has its inherent dangers as it causes Juninho, who was more of an attacking force in years past, to stick in front of defensive line while giving Sarvas the freedom to push forward. However, Sarvas has also shown the willingness to reciprocate when Juninho presses, but maintaining constant communication between the pair in these situations is vital to preserving the Galaxy’s midfield shape.
“We need know during the game when he’s stepping forward so that I need to stay back. [head coach Bruce Arena] talked to us a lot about that a lot, but we both know the game so it’s easy,” said Juninho. “David Beckham [may have] left but Marcelo came in and we have good communication [between us] so it’s good for the team.”
One of the primary recipients of the Brazilians’ style of play, Landon Donovan certainly agrees.
“They just cover so much ground and they have a really good understanding. They pride themselves in doing all the little things that make a team successful,” said Donovan. “They don’t need recognition or glory; they just come in and do a good job every day. There’s no question that we wouldn’t be where we were without them.”
LA’s own personnel are not alone in the praise of the Brazilian pair as RSL head coach Jason Kreis, who will be tasked with stopping the pair in the Western Conference Semifinal Series, is quick to rave about the LA duo.
“I think that they’re really excellent. Marcelo Sarvas in particular is one of the most improved players in the league,” said Kreis. “In his first year, it took him awhile to transition as it does a lot of players, but he’s a gifted player, a good technical player, and a smart player as well. I think that he and Juninho work very well together. The amount of ground and the number of balls that they’re able to win having just two central midfielders is amazing.”
The Galaxy will need the two Brazilians to be at their best on this week as they take on RSL and the midfield pairing of Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales.
Sarvas’ ability to break up attacks is vital in both stopping Morales and aiding LA as they look up field for their own opportunities. Meanwhile, Juninho is a likely candidate to stay close to LA’s back four serving as the first line of defense as they attempt to shut down an RSL attack that is expected to be aggressive from the outset.
“We know those guys very much. It’s going to be a huge game and in the playoffs, you need to concentrate and score goals,” said Juninho. “We’re going to try to win second balls and cancel Beckerman and Morales. That’ll be the key.”
“We play a lot and we know each other very much in the playoffs,” added Juninho. “So for the playoffs, we’ll look to work hard and step up.”
If LA are able to get the proper contributions from their two Brazilian midfielders against RSL then they may be able to make use of another Brazilian expression: “Fique tranquilo” which means “just don’t worry.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com