By AVI CREDITOR
CARSON, Calif. – While the Houston Dynamo's Luiz Camargo and the Los Angeles Galaxy's Juninho will spend much of Sunday's MLS Cup Final matched up directly against each other, it won't be the first time the two Brazilians will have shared the field together.
The 24-year-old Camargo and 22-year-old Juninho were raised in different areas in Brazil before their soccer link began years ago. They trained together in the same place while growing up in their native country before playing together as teammates in the Sao Paulo club youth system from 2004 to 2006.
Five years later and more than 6,000 miles away from home, they will reunite by going head-to-head with league silverware on the line, and their individual matchup could be vital to determining the league's champion.
"The fact that you have two Brazilian players playing in the national championship game here in MLS Cup, it's a very nice experience," Camargo said through a translator.
Although Camargo said that their participation in the MLS Cup final hasn't generated a whole lot of press back in Brazil, both have made noteworthy contributions toward their respective teams' championship runs.
Juninho has emerged as a crucial component for the Galaxy in his two seasons in MLS, and Camargo has evolved into a central figure for what the Dynamo do in limited time as well.
Since being acquired in August, Camargo has appeared 10 times over both the regular season and playoffs, starting the last nine games. Camargo's through ball to eventual goal-scorer Carlos Costly cemented Houston's Eastern Conference final victory over Sporting Kansas City, and he's had to learn on the fly while playing in a new area on the field.
"It was a difficult adjustment at the very beginning, because in Brazil I played a different position," Camargo said.
Whereas he was more of a defensive-minded midfielder like his counterpart Juninho in his past playing days, Camargo has embraced his role in Houston as more of an attack-minded creator and distributor.
"With Adam (Moffat) coming in, we felt that for Luiz to get on the field he had to play a more advanced role," Dynamo coach Dom Kinnear said. "He seemed to be pretty excited by that proposition. I think he's adapted. We had to throw him in right away, and these are big, important games that we're playing, and I think he's done well. He hasn't scored the goals, but he's very good on the ball. I think he understands what we want from him."
Camargo has combined with Moffat to create a formidable central-midfield partnership, one that's been effective enough to relinquish Geoff Cameron of his midfield duties and push him back to defense, which has been a key to the Dynamo's recent run of form.
Juninho, meanwhile, represents a key fiber in the Galaxy's backbone, helping free up David Beckham to roam around the midfield while he provides defensive cover and breaks up opposing attacks.
"He's been great ever since we got him," Galaxy centerback Omar Gonzalez said. "Sitting in front of me and A.J. (DeLaGarza), he covers a lot of space for us. He's always blocking those entry passes. He's very dangerous (shooting) from a far distance. Everyone realizes how good he is for us."
The MLS Cup final is littered with big names and star players on both sides, but with the possession battle coming down to which central midfield outperforms and outworks the other, the onus will fall on the unheralded countrymen and former-teammates-turned-foes to tilt the scales one way or the other.
"It's a very important matchup, because Juninho's a very important piece, a very important part of the Galaxy team," Camargo said. "It's going to be one of those matchups that we have to watch closely."