Union Intent on Shutting Down Galaxy's Juninho
David Beckham gets the media attention. Landon Donovan gets the accolades. But in 2011, Juninho gets the results.
The 22-year-old Brazilian put his stamp on MLS last year, but he's upped the ante this season.
In three games, the hard-working midfielder has scored two cracking goals from distance. Both were strikes of total quality, ones that looked more like they came off the foot of Juninho Pernambucano, the Lyon legend who was known for his impeccable shooting ability.
But in addition to scoring, the Galaxy's Juninho does his duty elsewhere on the pitch. He plays the box-to-box role as well as anyone.
"His work-rate is amazing, his work ethic," Manager Peter Nowak said during a Wednesday press conference at PPL Park. "I think he's a guy who challenges for every single ball and wants to be involved in every play. The goals he's scored from distance, it shows that he's not only working as a defensive midfielder, but he's going forward in good ways. We have to make sure we stay in a good shape and prevent those shots from distance, because that's where he's dangerous.
"The guys around him are very technical, they see the field well. But in the last three games he was their most dangerous guy. So, we just have to be aware of how he fits into their formation and make it difficult for him."
The Union midfield and defense have been resolute this year, having yet to concede a goal. It's the product of effective movement and communication, with players covering for each other and tracking the other team's playmakers.
Nowak's squad will likely see David Beckham on the right and Donovan on the left, with Juninho and Chris Birchall in the middle. All four midfielders are keenly aware of their positioning, spacing the field and making late runs into the box.
"I know [Juninho] personally from when he came on trial to LA," said Union midfielder and former Galaxy man Stefani Miglioranzi. "He's a sneaky type of midfielder. You don't think he's in or around the play, then he shows up. Like you saw against New England and Seattle, he shows up, gets the ball, and hits a great strike from outside the box. We definitely have to keep him in mind, keep him in the corner of our eye, and always know where he's positioned.
"I think we have the physical strength in the midfield to maybe body him out of plays. And if we're close enough to him, we can neutralize a big part of their game."