Juninho’s success helps Galaxy, could open more doors in MLS for Brazilians

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Photo by Michael Janosz/ISIphotos.com

By ADAM SERRANO

While the scoring prowess of Edson Buddle and Landon Donovan and the stout defending of Omar Gonzalez have been crucial ingredients to the success of the Los Angeles Galaxy, it is the play of a newcomer that may play just as important of a role in the team's good fortune.   

Vitor Gomes Pereira Junior, better known as Juninho, has been a revelation for a club that sits atop the standings in Major League Soccer. Brought in from Sao Paulo along with winger Alex Cazumba and defender Leonardo, with whom Juninho has played for three and five years respectively, the 21-year-old midfielder has enjoyed success with two goals and two assists in all competitions and has become a key starter for Los Angeles. 

Signed on-loan from Sao Paulo, the midfielder's contract and those of his fellow Brazilians are subject to a team option after this season. A serious competitor for Newcomer of the Year, the Brazilian says that although he has experienced some success so far, there is plenty of time for more progress.

"For all players in the beginning it’s difficult, but because I have the opportunity to play consistently, then I have been able to improve weekly," Juninho said through a translator. "Our other players are a big help in allowing me learn the lay of the land especially guys like Landon (Donovan) and (Chris) Birchall."

Juninho and his compatriots have had to battle for playing time while also learning a brand new language. Juninho, in particular, has had to deal with a host of challenges, including personal issues that forced him to return to Brazil in August.

In order to overcome their unfamiliarity with English, the trio enrolled in English classes at the behest of Galaxy coach Bruce Arena. The weekly English classes are taught in the team lounge at the Home Depot Center. Although the trio has been learning English for much of the season, Juninho admits that it is a steady process. 

"We try to speak some English with our teammates, but all of us know that we are limited," Juninho said. "With our classes, we’re beginning to learn new words that help us gain a grasp on the language, but on the field we’re plugged into the lingo so everyone knows how to work together.”

While English remains a challenge, it is the field where Juninho has progressed the most. The Brazilian has displayed a knack of showing up in big games despite his relative inexperience in MLS. In two of the Galaxy’s more important matches of the year against Eastern rivals New York and Columbus, Juninho’s passing allowed the Galaxy offense to triumph over a pair of stiff defenses. 

A key cog in the center of the midfield for Los Angeles, Juninho has spent much of the season partnered with Birchall. Their partnership has been a key one for Arena's offense, which requires Birchall, the defensive midfielder, to break up attacks while Juninho plays the distributor for the Galaxy's fast paced attack.

Birchall admits that through the last few months he's seen a serious jump in quality from Juninho, from fringe practice player at the end of last season to starter.

"By playing with each other week-in and week-out and becoming familiar with each other’s games in the last eight or nine games, he’s been on exceptional form," said Birchall. "He’s got two goals, one in the (U.S. Open) Cup and the other in league, and since he’s scored those goals, he’s been a different player, because he’s confident and a delight to play with."

The success of the diminutive Brazilian comes at a time when the profile of MLS may be at its highest in Brazil. With the league gaining prevalence by being broadcast on local television, in addition to the United States’ recent success in the World Cup and Confederations Cup, American soccer has begun to creep into the mind of the Brazilian player. 

One Brazilian in the league remembers when this wasn't always the case. Paulo Nagamura of Chivas USA has been in the league since 2005 and was a product of the same Sao Paulo youth system that helped develop Juninho.

A defensive midfield stalwart with Chivas, the 27-year-old said that when he entered the league, there was little known about MLS. With 13 Brazilians now playing in MLS, the opportunity for growth is there. 

"To be honest, when I came into the league, I didn't know too much about it, but over the years, the quality of play has really improved and perception has grown in Brazil and around the world," Nagamura said. "Juninho is obviously doing very well right now. It means a lot for him personally to have such success early in his MLS career, especially for the many Brazilians who want to play in this league."  

With his time in MLS contingent on his success this year, Juninho admits that it does not matter where he plays, but only that he is able to earn playing time to develop. 

"If Sao Paulo calls for me, then I would consider returning, but what is most important to me is getting my chance to play," Juninho said. "I was born to play so that’s what I need to be doing."

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34 Responses to Juninho’s success helps Galaxy, could open more doors in MLS for Brazilians

  1. guwinster says:

    You forgot how Cazumba and Leonardo’s amazing play is opening doors for Brazillian players.

    *sarcasm*

    As a whole the Galaxy’s three Brazillians have not done better than any other three players picked at random from around the league.

  2. not the author says:

    Awesome breakdown of Juninho’s performance vs. Columbus can be found here:

    link to sandiegos10.tumblr.com

  3. BAJ says:

    Juninho has been great but Cazumba and Leonardo have left much to be desired. Hopefully we sign Juninho and let the other two go. If we were going to keep one of the two though I would keep Leonardo just for depth at CB.

  4. ccb1212 says:

    I am sorry, but Juninho better not win the Newcomer of the Year award. That needs to go to Saborio with RSL.

  5. Jdavids says:

    Bring more Brazilians! Bring more talent! Raise the bar! Go MLS! A better league means more money, more talent, more academies developing talent, and American soccer taking it to the next level by matching our athletic no nonsense game with technical and tactically aware soccer.

  6. Slyboy says:

    As a whole, maybe…But Juninho has played better then any plaer pikced at random

  7. Kaiser says:

    Think you are looking at this the wrong way. Juninho is easily one of the best newcomers in the league. His passing has been key to the Galaxy attack, and they aren’t as dangerous a team without him on the field. Even if the other two have been a bit of a disappointment the investment has paid off.

    Actually I would argue that the other two are more valuable than you think. Leonardo hasn’t been incredible, but he has played some decent minutes for a team that needed some depth at CB (especailly with several injuries). And Cazumba has brought some youth and energy to a midfeild that desperately needed some with players like Lewis, Kirovski, and Klein rounding out their careers. He’s not brilliant, but he is a change of pace that the team needs from time to time.

    So one key component to your offense and two contibutors aren’t bad for an international gamble. Espeically considering some of the international signings for MLS that turned out to be huge gaffes.

  8. martin says:

    i agree, bring on those 18-23 year old brazilians.

    enough of these 27-30 year old europeans from 2nd divison leagues.

  9. CSD says:

    The smart thing the Galaxy did was bring in 3 Brazilians together to make it easier for them to settle in.

    In 2007 Luciano Emlilio a Brazilian won the MLS MVP Award and the inaugural MLS Newcomer of the Year Award.

    I think folks have known in the US for a long time that Brazilians are a net exporter of quality soccer talent. That Brazilian guy that showed up in New York in the mid 70’s help to start that mass export trend.

  10. rory says:

    Who are the other Brazilians in the MLS?

    Nagamora

    Juninho

    Leonardo

    Cazumba

    Edwardo (of San Jose)

    ???

  11. Mattmatumbo says:

    Pablo Campos

  12. Rob says:

    A good mix of Europeans and South Americans would be ideal. Players would see both “styles” of football. However lateral moves from Europe, based on league talent, is useless.

  13. Niccollo says:

    Fred is one

    geovani

    im drawing a blank on the rest

  14. Dave in San Jose says:

    Quakes have Eduardo, Geovanni and Andre Luis.

  15. Adam M. says:

    More Brazilians are good idea, as is the case pretty much everywhere, but MLS really should keep looking to the Brazilian league for players, specifically the middle of the pack first division and upper tier second division sides for “regular” talent and older talent on traditional powers for DPs (has anyone at MLS ever reached out to Washington?). Exhibit A is MVP candidate David Ferriera, who is not Brazilian but played for Atletico Paranaense for many years.

  16. RLW2020 says:

    great site!

  17. RLW2020 says:

    i wouldn’t say Lindpere or N’Fuko are useless.. but ya of course more quality prospects from Brazil could benefit the league.

  18. Rob says:

    Fred
    Miglioranzi
    Maicon Santos
    Sargosa
    Jackson
    Guard
    Campos
    Guarda
    Geovanni
    Eduardo
    Luiz
    Carreiro

  19. john says:

    In a way, I would say Joel Lindpere should win newcomer of the year.

  20. JavaLavaJoe says:

    Anyone read Soccernomics yet? Great read and touches on the subject of helping players adjust to new culture, country, language.

    The teams that do it best, get the most out of their players. Having been to Brazil and seen the incredible talent pool I agree bringing more Brazilians is a good idea.

    Having struggled with Portuguese I can only imagine how nice it is for Juninho to have Leonardo and Cazumba around.

  21. USAHammerFan says:

    RSL has another Brazilian on loan who scored in champions league against Toronto and looked quite active in MLS game last weekend as a late game sub. His name is Paulo Araujo. link to en.wikipedia.org.

  22. Rob says:

    Well I meant in terms of second division and the Scandinavian leagues.

  23. Really great book, some chapters can be a get a bit boring and there are some points they make I don’t 100% agree with but overall it’s a fascinating read.

  24. Illmatic74 says:

    Brazilian players have a spot in every league in the world.

  25. JP says:

    Worth noting that these are players who really could not progress within Sao Paulo’s youth system. Now, think of the opportunites that we could have with even higher talented players (those on the fringe of making the top team).

    There is plenty of talent to harvest in Brazil’s 1st/2nd divisions and (better yet) its youth system.

  26. einar says:

    hmmm that is not always true because we do get players are about to make the senior squad for example toja and that leftback that dallas used to have.

  27. Mark says:

    Yeah, Paulo has looked amazing in the few minutes he has played for RSL. I’m excited to see more of him. Pablo Campos, well, he’s tall :)

  28. BetaMale says:

    Probably most important is how Juninho can simplify LD’s job. LD can focus on being the terror on the wing while Juninho works on linking the defense with the offense.

    Just look at LD’s comments after that Columbus game to see how much he depends on Juninho.

  29. bryan says:

    that’s really cool. thanks for sharing.

  30. Adam Samples says:

    Not for nothing but did anyone see Juninho’s pathetic performance against DC this past weekend? He had to have lost the ball more than 50% of the time. He was awful.

  31. inne says:

    Saborio = Hands down newcomer of the year

    Juninho is good at getting and giving cleats to the face.. I’m all for more brazilians and argentines in the MLS.

  32. Tom says:

    That’s right, more Argentines also. Argentina just passed Brazil in quantity of soccer exports, with 20% of Brazil’s population.

  33. chg says:

    One obvious way to adjust to their new culture is to put their own names on their jersey. In every other country on the planet, you have to earn a nickname and the fame to be known as simply Michael or Magic.

  34. Sounder Sam says:

    Cazumba is might be even better than Juninho