By ADAM SERRANO
CARSON, Calif. – A stellar offseason for the Los Angeles Galaxy got even better when Juninho rejoined the defending MLS Cup champions on a year-long loan from São Paulo. But while Juninho is all smiles about coming back to America, the midfielder still has one eye on an eventual return to Brazil to compete for a place at his childhood club.
"I loved being here and winning a championship," Juninho said. "But I've always had the dream to try to play for São Paulo. It was an opportunity for me. But I feel great being here. I've got great friends, and it's a great club."
Juninho's return to Los Angeles may have come as a surprise to some, but not the Galaxy, who kept tabs on the Brazilian as he attempted to earn a first-team place with São Paulo. After he was unable to do so, the Galaxy were quick to bring back the influential midfielder on loan for the 2012 season. Juninho arrived in Southern California last week and has already made two appearances for the club in Desert Diamond Cup action.
Happy to return to a place that he calls his "second home," the 23-year-old midfielder has fit right back in with the Galaxy.
"He's come right back in and fit in the second he walked back into the building," Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. "He's a very good player for us, no question about it. He scored a few timely goals, played a number of games, understands his role, complemented David Beckham quite well. I think this year…we have potentially a very good midfield."
Juninho returns to the Galaxy after a homecoming gone wrong. He rejoined São Paulo on Jan. 4 in hopes of gaining a place on the first team, but after a month of training with the club, he was unable to earn a place on São Paulo's 18-man game-day roster.
Mired near the bottom of the depth chart for and clearly no longer in the plans of head coach Emerson Leão, Juninho quickly had to face the facts and consider a return to MLS. For all his difficulties earning a place on São Paulo's vaunted squad, Juninho admits that this experience has not extinguished his dream of one day playing for the Brazilian giants.
"I had a very good contract with São Paulo and was in a situation where there's a lot of very good players," Juninho said. "It was very difficult."
His Brazilian excursion behind him, Juninho returns to a team that is stronger than the one that he left — albeit briefly — earlier in the year. This offseason, the Galaxy added another Brazilian midfielder, Marcelo Sarvas from Alajuelense, thwarted a host of European clubs to re-sign Beckham to a two-year contract and regained the services of forward Edson Buddle, who returned from a stint in Germany.
With Sarvas brought in initially as Juninho's replacement, Arena will need to find minutes for both Brazilian midfielders. During the Desert Diamond Cup, Arena has alternated his approach, placing both on the field for the second half against the New England Revolution and swapping the pair in the club's match against Real Salt Lake.
No matter what his role is on the field, Juninho believes that the new additions could make the Galaxy even better than last year's MLS Cup winning side.
"Very good players — smart, intelligent. I think is better for us," said Juninho. "We'll be stronger, and we'll have good competition [within the team]. Edson's a very good player, and Sarvas. David will stay for two more years, and and Landon stays also. I think the Galaxy has a very good team."