If his initial play is any indication, a healthy Juninho will be an impact player for the New York Red Bulls this season.
Head coach Mike Petke wants to preserve that.
The 38 year old World Cup veteran was the focal point of the team’s midfield dominance throughout the first half against Portland and continued the Red Bulls aggressive tempo in limited minutes against DC United late Saturday afternoon.
Still, a calf strain picked up in training following the team’s match in Portland has forced the Brazilian playmaker to miss valuable time on the training pitch. Speaking to the media after the team’s 0-0 draw with DC United, Juninho gave his health a big thumbs up. Nevertheless, continued fitness was his biggest worry and minutes may be hard to come by thanks to the team’s next opponent.
The Montreal Impact will host New York on one of the league’s most brutal artificial surfaces in L’Stade Olympique. According to Juninho, that may leave his selection in question along with those of other players on the team.
“We have another match away from home, possibly with important players that will not play,” he said, “but I feel in great conditions to come back for the team.”
One of those important players may be team captain, Thierry Henry. The Red Bulls striker twisted his knee towards the end of last weeks DC United encounter. He was subbed out for rookie Amando Moreno. When the media was let into the locker room area post-game, Henry was nowhere to be found. His locker had long been cleared out with no explanation of his absence.
Red Bull officials insist his knee knock wasn’t severe, but with a track record that only includes two matches on artificial surfaces (both in Portland) over the course of three years, it would be unlikely to see Henry make the trip up North.
That doesn’t necessarily reflect Juninho’s status for the match, but can be an indication.
“As far as my injury goes, I feel well,” he stated. “I feel nothing now but I was lacking some rhythm after the time off. I didn’t play the second match and lost a weeks worth of training but I feel like the team played a great match.
“We will play another complicated road match on artificial turf. Normally, the coach doesn’t want to put a lot of players to play on synthetic turf, but I am available for the team to play the next match.”
With or without Henry, Juninho feels the team has made major strides in three matches and hopes those accomplishments can carry the team through Saturday’s encounter.
“I think up until now we have good things and something’s we need to fix,” he said. “We are starting the season. The preparation for me wasn’t ideal because we traveled so much in bad weather and when we got home, conditions were also bad. That’s why I feel we have more negatives than positives right now. Of course playing three matches without a win, maybe you are left wanting more. But the first match, we were winning 3-1 and we wound up tying against a good team. The second game we were winning 1-0 and controlled the match but we dropped our level of play by the end of the match. (Sunday) we played a complete match with many opportunities and domination for practically most of the match.
“If we continue at that level, we have a chance to grow and win huge in coming matches.”