The first half of the season has been full of milestones the 2017 Chicago Fire, and Saturday night’s 4-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps was no different.
Captain and midfield stalwart Juninho celebrated playing his 200th MLS regular season game with a surgically efficient 90-minute performance typical of the seven-season MLS veteran.
“This is very good, to get in that point in the career where you look back and see all the games over your shoulder in the past,” he said. “It was a long way to get here.”
From the heart of the Fire midfield, the 28-year-old put in the club’s single-best passing performance of the season, completing 76-of-79 attempts (via Opta) and providing a supporting presence that propelled the club to its eighth-straight victory at home and first place in the Supporters’ Shield standings.
When asked about the top-to-bottom state of the club’s current roster, head coach Veljko Paunovic used his answer to single out Juninho’s effort following the match on Saturday.
“Thank you for asking that question because I wanted to talk about Juninho today,” Paunovic told the room. “I think he assumed the role -- especially when Basti (Schweinsteiger) had to go out -- he assumed the role of the leader. He assumed the role of dictating the game for us with the ball, and obviously defensively he helped a lot. He covered so much ground today, and was very efficient with the ball. That was very important that we had Juninho assuming the role that Dax (McCarty) was doing for us. His participation on the field was fantastic.”
It was the type of performance that has come to be expected of the Sao Paulo native. His 200 regular season games include 190 starts. His 16,500+ MLS regular season minutes include 18 goals and 24 assists from the midfield. His work put in as a mainstay during six seasons with the LA Galaxy helped lead to one of the most successful runs in league history, as the California club racked up three MLS Cups and two Supporters’ Shield trophies during Juninho's tenure from 2010-15 -- which saw the Brazilian play in 20 postseason matches.
And while his career has taken him from Brazil to Los Angeles to Tijuana and ultimately to Chicago, the 28-year-old still manages to keep his eyes forward as he gears up for MLS match No. 201.
“I’m very happy to accomplish this number,” he said. “And I hope I can keep going and keep giving happiness to the Chicago Fire team.”
Send your congratulations on a fantastic career so far to the man himself on Twitter at @Juninho19CF.