CARSON, Calif. -- It was difficult for the LA Galaxy’s Juninho to stop smiling Monday.
It wasn’t necessarily because of warm temperatures and sunshine that greeted him, coaches and players for their latest training session. His grin was mostly from the knowledge he’s here to stay.
The 24-year-old midfielder, who made his first preseason training appearance with the club Monday, signed a multi-year contract with the Galaxy last month, making him a permanent fixture on the two-time defending MLS Cup champions.
No longer is he on loan from Sao Paulo, from where he first joined LA in 2010. Instead, he’s here to stay and couldn’t be more thrilled about it.
“I’m so happy,” Juninho said, who added it was “easy” to leave Sao Paulo, with whom he came up through the youth ranks. “It was easy because I don’t play there too much. Here (Galaxy head coach) Bruce (Arena) gives me all the support and love here.
“I play a lot of minutes. I’m happy to be here.”
Juninho, a fan favorite who has been joined in Southern California by his wife and family and even his wife’s dog – “I don’t like dogs too much,” he said with a grin – originally joined the Galaxy on loan in 2010 and quickly became a fixture in the center of midfield. He has played in 87 regular season games, including 85 starts, with the Galaxy and has 13 goals – including a career-high seven last season -- and eight assists. He also earned his first MLS All-Star nod in 2011.
Arena said clearing up Juninho’s status was one of his offseason priorities.
“It’s just good to have Juni as a permanent part of our league,” Arena said. “Sao Paulo is a club with a lot of talented players, and sometimes they can’t keep everybody. We were fortunate to create a relationship where we were able to get Juni here.
“Our past experiences were it wasn’t going to be easy, but it turned out to be something that made sense for both clubs. We’re happy for the player, we’re happy for our club.”
Juninho, who said he arrived in Southern California five days ago and arrived in camp after taking a couple of months off in Brazil, said his fitness level is about “70 percent,” but a few more days of running should raise that considerably. He’s also over a sore Achilles tendon that bothered him for parts of last season.
“I don’t have anything anymore,” he said. “Last year my Achilles hurt me a lot, but this year’s everything’s fine. The rest helped a lot.”
And the fact he’s here for good isn’t bad either, he said.
“Having my family here again is very special,” he said. “I’m very happy.”