Eric Vieira

Juninho ecstatic to be back in familiar Galaxy

LOS ANGELES — With his trademark smile, Juninho quietly walked toward a throng of LA Galaxy supporters who had come to welcome him back to Los Angeles on Monday night, even if they expected him to come down an escalator and not an elevator. 

The 29-year-old midfielder, who had spent three years away from the club that originally brought him to Major League Soccer, was back among the comfortable folds of white, blue and gold scarves, Galaxy hats and chants of his name at Los Angeles International Airport.

And if the expression on his face didn’t tell just how elated he was to be back with his old club, then his words certainly did.

“It feels very good,’’ Juninho said of the loud and boisterous welcome. “To see all these people here means a lot for myself.

“I think I did very good things in the past. That’s why I think the club bring me back. I think I left the door open and that’s why I’m here.”

Juninho returns to a team that has missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons and just hired a new general manager and new head coach. Bruce Arena was in charge when Juninho last put on a Galaxy kit, and the Galaxy have gone through four head coaches since.

Outside of Bradford Jamieson IV — who didn’t dress for the 2014 MLS Cup victory — the Galaxy were devoid of any link to their last titles. 

When Juninho joined the club in 2010 (on loan from São Paulo in Brazil), he helped the Galaxy capture a Supporters Shield, indicative of the best record in MLS. In 2011 it was an MLS Cup and shield. In 2012 he helped the club repeat its MLS Cup victory, and in 2014 his midfield presence helped lock up the club’s third MLS Cup in five years.

“I think I left MLS, in the past, with championships,’’ he said during a short break from signing autographs, posing for pictures and engaging in a never-ending string of warm embraces with Galaxy supporters. “I’m here to get more. That’s why I’m here. The club knows that. They did everything to bring me back.

“Today, (I bring) more experience for sure. I think that’s what I’m going to bring to the guys and the group and I hope we can succeed together.”

Juninho last played in the league in 2017 when the Chicago Fire acquired him on a loan deal from the Xolos of Tijuana, the same club that purchased him from the Galaxy at the end of the 2015 season.

But in 2018 and back in Tijuana, he struggled with injuries and sat out the entire year.

He rejoins a Galaxy team full of central midfielders but he’s looking forward to the challenge, not to mention getting to know new head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto.

“He’s Argentinian, South American,’’ Juninho said with a nod. “He’s a real genius. I hope I can see his style of play. We have to start with him and see what he wants for the team.

“I know what I did in the past, so total different story right now. So I hope I can learn and do my best.”

Juninho and the Galaxy start the 2019 preseason on Jan. 20 when players report for physicals.

Larry Morgan contributed to this article