Galaxy hope Juninho's winner in the come-from-behind 3-1 win over Portland is a turning point for the midfielder.For seemingly the first time in several months, a grin broke out on Juninho’s face.
The Galaxy midfielder had just held off Portland Timbers forward Darlington Nagbe, turned and lashed a trademark long-range shot past goalkeeper Troy Perkins from outside the penalty box. It was an outrageous goal and also a timely one, as it broke a tense 1-1 deadlock against visiting Portland and pushed the Galaxy to a comfortable 3-1 win.
After serving as a human pogo stick for his celebrating teammates, the slender Brazilian even showcased a few of the samba moves redolent of his country.
But there has been little joy for Juninho this year, nor for the Galaxy, and one suspects the two might be related. After a fantastic campaign last season in which the Brazilian’s defensive steel and uncommon range melded perfectly in midfield with David Beckham’s aging brilliance, 2012 has not been so kind.
First, Juninho signed a new deal with parent club Sao Paolo in the offseason, hoping to fulfill a lifelong dream and break into the first team of his boyhood club. But in more than a month of training he never saw first-team action, and it became clear Juninho was surplus to requirements, at least under Sao Paolo’s current manager. So he returned to LA for a third season on loan in a deal that was seen as a coup for the Galaxy, who were resigned to losing the All-Star.
But as preseason rolled around in March, there were signs the 23-year-old was not quite over the ordeal in his homeland.
“I loved being here and winning a championship,” he told ESPN in February. “But I've always had the dream to try to play for São Paulo. It was an opportunity for me.”
Juninho started the team’s first game of the season in Toronto for the first leg of the Galaxy’s CONCACF Champions League tie against Toronto FC, but looked badly off pace and out of shape as the Galaxy ultimately went crashing out of the competition. He was also uncharacteristically anonymous in the team’s five subsequent games, four of them losses.
Teammates attributed at least part of the slow start to the disappointment for what happened in Sao Paolo.
“You have to think from his standpoint,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said. “It’s a dream for him to play for that team. And of course that would be disappointing for anybody, especially a young player.”
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena was terse in his assessment Saturday of his young midfielder, refusing to bite on any sentimental suggestions that the offseason rejection in Brazil was affecting his psyche. Instead he blamed the slow start on fitness, referencing an injury he picked up in Australia on the Galaxy’s postseason world tour.
“He came in and he was behind and we knew we had to invest some time in him and move him forward as best we can,” Arena said with more than a hint of frustration. “Obviously it’s taken a while . . . He still has a long way to go.”
But Donovan commended the Brazilian for his goal to beat Portland, and suggested it could be a turning point to forget about the experience in Sao Paolo.
“Now that [situation in Sao Paolo is] over with and we need him to be one of our most important players like he has been,” Donovan said.
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