CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy could be somewhat short-handed when the five-time MLS Cup champions return to Major League Soccer action on Sunday, March 31 against Portland at Dignity Health Sports Park.
Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has missed the last two matches with a sore Achilles tendon, likely will be back at training as early as Tuesday, according to head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto. But it’s in the midfield where the Galaxy may be lacking in numbers.
Starters Jonathan dos Santos and Sebastian Lletget will have just returned from duties with their national teams (Mexico and the United States, respectively) and possibly be rested against the Timbers, but Schelotto won’t have to look far for able-bodied replacements.
One of them will be a familiar figure to Galaxy faithful who rejoiced when he returned to the club in January. Juninho has recovered from a left knee injury which has limited his participation in training and pronounced himself ready to go should Schelotto give him the nod.
“I feel great,” he said after training Thursday, in which he went the full 60 minutes in an intrasquad scrimmage. “The knee is not bothering me at all. It’s good to be back on the pitch, doing what I love. Being part of the team … that’s why I’m here.”
The 30-year-old Juninho rejoined the team after the Galaxy acquired the right of first refusal from the Chicago Fire – with whom he spent the 2018 season on loan from Liga MX’s Club Tijuana – for $75,000 in general allocation money.
Juninho had quite a career with the Galaxy, with whom he won MLS Cups in 2011, 2012 and 2014 and was named to the MLS All-Star Game in 2015. But now he’s back, hoping to pick up where he left off.
A cartilage problem in his left knee, however, limited his practice time and it wasn’t until just recently and after weeks of therapy – he chose not to have surgery — that he rejoined workouts.
“It’s been bothering me for years,” he said. “When I started training here I started feeling it and I stepped out. I started making plans to be back out here as soon as possible.
“Now I’m fully healthy, I’m getting close to 100 percent. I think I’ll be able to help as soon as the coach calls me.”
Juninho admitted his forced inactivity has been disappointing, to say the least.
“I was not expecting at all to be out that long,” he said. “Honestly, I was thinking at the start I would be fully healthy, being part of the team and being able to contribute much quicker. But you never know.
“The season is a long one and I think I have a lot to contribute to the team. I’m just looking forward to my opportunities. That’s the way it is. Hopefully the coach looks for me and I’ll be 100 percent.”
Juninho said he remains deeply appreciative of the welcome he received from fans at Los Angeles International Airport after he re-signed with the team.
“That was a very emotional day for me,” he said. “I got here at LAX, all those people were there. It meant a lot for me. This club, all I did in the past, it means a lot.
“To be part of the team again is something unreal. I hope I can be on the field to help the team and do what I can do.”
IBRAHIMOVIC STILL ABSENT
Schelotto continued to take a cautious approach with the 37-year-old Ibrahimovic, who has been bothered by a sore Achilles tendon, by keeping him out of workouts this week.
“We give him one week more to stay out and get the recovery 100 percent before we start training again on Tuesday,” he said. “We’re thinking about the game with Portland. I think he’ll be fine to play.”
Schelotto also said midfielder Roman Alessandrini, who has been sidelined since playing just 20 minutes against Chicago on March 2 because of a hamstring issue, is “fine.” Goalkeeper David Bingham has been absent from training this week after Schelotto said he “felt something in his leg” against Minnesota, but he, too, should be OK for the Portland match.
Schelotto also was asked if he had an idea what his team is capable of, despite having played just three games this season.
“I think we need to keep growing,” he said. “I know sometimes when you have to go step by step you want to do something before you feel ready to.
“I think for right now we have six points out of nine. The last game I think was wonderful how we play. I think right now we are ready to fight for first place.”