COMMENTARY | The New York Red Bulls took a shot this past December on an aging footballer who was well into the twilight of his career. It turns out that the gamble didn't work out well for player or club.
New York announced via the club's website on Wednesday that they had come to a mutual agreement with 38-year old Juninho to cancel the player's contract. Juninho made 13 appearances, ten starts, during his cup of coffee in Major League Soccer, notching four assists but not a single goal in that time. He last played a league match for New York on June 1 in the team's 2-1 home loss to Vancouver Whitecaps.
Known for burying spectacular free kicks throughout his career, Juninho routinely sailed such attempts over the bar or wide of the target while wearing New York red and white. Arguably the best moment of his MLS stint came back on May 19 when he assisted on Tim Cahill's late goal that propelled the Red Bulls to a 1-0 victory over defending MLS Cup winners LA Galaxy. His biggest contribution to the club moving forward will be the fact that New York have now taken $200k off the books.
Juninho offered the following quote for the RBNY website piece that announced his exit: "Before I leave for home, I want to thank the New York Red Bulls for the opportunity to experience MLS and to wish my teammates and the club's excellent fans every success for the remainder of the season."
A lineup mainstay under first-time MLS head coach Mike Petke at the start of the 2013 season, Juninho had found himself relegated to super-sub duty and replaced by the likes of Jonny Steele, who has been a revelation in the New York midfield, and Eric Alexander. Red Bulls beat writer Franco Panizo Tweeted out on Wednesday afternoon that he had heard that Juninho had become "frustrated with the lack of playing time and the way he was used by Petke." Juninho had this to say about the Red Bulls and MLS, in general, when speaking with RMC Sport last month (loosely translated):
"The technical quality of my club is not fantastic. I thought we were stronger...At the technical level, this is comparable to the Ligue 2 in France."
Juninho took to Facebook to explain his departure from the club. In that statement, he cited "not feeling well on the field" and and a "difficult" relationship with Petke as reasons for his leaving New York and MLS. He thanked his now former teammates, the club, and fans of the Red Bulls.
It would be unfair to suggest that Juninho was merely in MLS for one final holiday before returning home to begin the next chapter of his life. Of his ten starts, eight of them saw the veteran play a full 90+ minutes. He often seemed to lose steam after being on the pitch for an hour or so, however, and he looked visibly unhappy while warming up on the sidelines this past Sunday when New York were hosting Houston Dynamo. Juninho did not make an appearance in that match.
New York currently sit in second place in the MLS East behind only Montreal Impact. The Red Bulls are fifth in the overall league standings, and they are tied for sixth in the "points per game" table.
Considering New York's form without Juninho in the team and also the player's feelings about Petke, the two parting ways seems best for both. The Red Bulls can now look to fill the several recognizable holes they have both up top and in defense, while Juninho may get to choose a different way to call time on his playing career. For what it's worth, his brief RBNY career can't be seen as a total bust.
We'll always have him trying to take Jimmy Nielsen's head clean off as a memory.
Zac has been covering the USMNT, Holland, Tottenham Hotspur, New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.
- Sports & Recreation
- New York Red Bulls
- Major League Soccer
- New York