Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By ADAM SERRANO
CARSON, Calif. — The rich got even richer on Tuesday as the Los Angeles Galaxy solidified their role as odds-on MLS Cup favorites by re-securing Brazilian midfielder Juninho on a year-long loan.
Juninho, who served as the Galaxy's midfield engine during the past two seasons, returns to Los Angeles after departing in December to return to Brazilian parent club Sao Paulo. His return adds to a wealth of options in the midfield for the Galaxy, who already boasted Landon Donovan, David Beckham and new signing Marcelo Sarvas, among others.
While the transaction came as a surprise to many after Juninho returned to Sao Paulo on a new three-year deal after the 2011 season, Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena admitted that discussions were always on going to facilitate his return to Los Angeles.
"We've obviously been in discussions to try to bring him back," Arena said after the Galaxy's preseason scrimmage against the Portland Timbers on Tuesday. "And we've been successful in doing that. … If we thought [back in December] it was going to successful, I don't think we would have lost him going back there initially. It's a series of things that impacted our ability to bring him back."
Central to Juninho's return to MLS was his inability to make Sao Paulo's first team despite reported assurances that he'd play a major role for the Brazilian club this season. These promises never came to fruition as he failed to make the club's game-day roster in its first five games, paving the way for his return to the Galaxy.
"I think (Sao Paulo has) a very deep team and a very good team, probably the best team in Brazil right now," Arena said. "It wasn't likely he was going to see a whole lot of time."
Not to be out done by the Brazilian giants, the Galaxy's midfield has plenty of depth as well, though Juninho's place in it is secure. In addition to Donovan, Beckham and Sarvas, the Galaxy midfield also includes U.S. Under-23 midfielder Mike Stephens, 2011 playoff hero Mike Magee, and recently acquired Kyle Nakazawa as well as 2011 draft choices Paolo Cardozo, Hector Jimenez and Dan Keat.
With at least 41 games — and potentially as many as 56 — competitive matches on the docket this season and international competitions making things more complicated this summer, Arena assures that there will be plenty of opportunities for playing time for his assortment of midfielders.
"With the CONCACAF Champions League and Sarvas cup-tied (to Alajuelense), it’s important to have Juninho here," Arena said. "Beckham and possibly Stephens could be gone to the Olympics. We need that position to be a position with depth and quality, and I think we have that now."
In addition to playing a vital role on the field, Juninho's impact can be measured in the Galaxy locker room, where his upbeat personality has made him a favorite among his teammates. Following the Galaxy's scrimmage with the Portland Timbers, members of the Galaxy were in high spirits upon learning of Juninho.
None was more pleased than Beckham, who served as the Brazilian's midfield partner last season. Alongside Beckham, Juninho emerged as one of the league's top two-way midfielders, providing a true counterweight to the Englishman. With Juninho providing defensive cover and linking into the attack, Beckham was provided the space to assert himself going forward, ultimately leading to his most successful year in MLS.
"Getting Juni back is a big thing for us," Beckham said. "I said it at the end of last season: He's grown into a mature player over the last couple of years. It was disappointing, obviously, when I arrived back that he wasn't here, but we're all happy to know he's coming back."
Juninho is expected to re-join the club next week, less than a month ahead of the Galaxy's Champions League quarterfinal against Toronto FC. With his midfield partner back in tow, Beckham is eager for the challenge ahead.
"We've got a lot of good players in our team, and it's about getting a good squad, because last year it was that kind of thing that helped us go all the way and win a championship," said Beckham. "We need that again this year."