CARSON, Calif. – The official stat sheet showed he was on the field for one minute, not counting four minutes of stoppage time, but that brief appearance couldn’t have been sweeter for LA Galaxy midfielder Juninho on Saturday.
The popular Brazilian drew one of the loudest ovations from a crowd of 24,053 at Dignity Health Sports Park, where the Galaxy shut out the Philadelphia Union 2-0 for their fourth consecutive victory, when he came on in the 89th minute for Romain Alessandrini.
“Of course,” he said to reporters when asked if he heard the crowd when he entered the game. “All of us did.
“I think I was prepared for that mentally and physically. I was very emotional. I was thankful for the opportunity to get back on the pitch in the preseason and I hope I can get out there more.”
Saturday’s relief stint marked his first playing time in a regular-season Galaxy game since he went 85 minutes in a 2-1 loss at Sporting Kansas City on Oct. 25, 2015. Three days later he started and played the full 90 minutes in a 3-2 loss to the Seattle Sounders in the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs.
“It’s been a while,” he said. “That’s in the past. I have to move on … good players think like that.
“Here we are.”
Juninho returned to the Galaxy in January after the club acquired the right of first refusal from the Chicago Fire, with whom he spent the 2018 season on loan from Liga MX side Club Tijuana, for $75,000 in general allocation money.
The native of San Jose dos Campos, Brazil, who helped the five-time MLS Cup champions win titles in 2011, 2012 and 2014, struggled through a difficult preseason. Damaged cartilage in his left knee which he said had been bothering him for years acted up again and limited his participation in training camp. It wasn’t until just over a month ago that he recovered enough to join workouts.
So it was understandable that he felt Saturday’s appearance, albeit a brief one, was more rewarding than usual.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment since preseason,” he said. “I’ve been through a tough situation with the knee, but I’m glad I’m back on the field. That was very special.”
Head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said there may be a place on the Galaxy for the 30-year-old, even though he finds himself in a crowded, talented midfield featuring the likes of Uriel Antuna, Joe Corona, Jonathan dos Santos and Sebastian Lletget.
“I think he can pass experience, advice to young players,” Schelotto said. “I think he can help us wherever he is … on the field, the bench. I think he can help us.”
That’s exactly what Juninho wants to hear.
“I’ve been training hard four, five weeks in a row,” he said. “I’m glad Guillermo counted on me and I was able to help somehow. I hope I can continue that way.”