To say Juninho leaving the Red Bulls is a surprise is a bit inaccurate.
Many were taken back by the mutual parting of ways announced this afternoon, but the writing had been on the wall for some time: Juninho had missed two practices, "a personal matter" was going to keep him from the Independence Day showdown against the Colorado Rapids, last week, reports surfaced he would be retiring, either now or at the end of the year and, right around the same time, he panned his teammates as technically deficient.
Clearly, Juninho was frustrated. Reportedly, it all came to a head after the Red Bulls' 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps, with the midfielder leveling criticism at Head Coach Mike Petke. The team was too predictable, he said, and too defensive minded.
If all of that is any indication, Juninho was not enjoying his time in New York and MLS. He just didn't seem to realize what he was in for. But you didn't expect the Brazilian legend to leave because of it.
As frustrating and unprofessional as that is, if we're honest with ourselves he's not wrong about the Red Bulls or MLS. The league isn't the world's most beautiful incarnation of the game. While MLS has moved beyond the 4-4-2, super-direct, overly-physical game, MLS hasn't evolved far enough where that the strategy is archaic yet, either. The American game still values physical traits, like size, strength and speed, over technical ones, if only because there isn't a ton of technical talent to choose from.
And the Red Bulls aren't the world's most creative attacking team. At some point, Thierry Henry isn't going to get the service he wants, so he'll drop back to get the ball. If the Red Bulls use the flanks, they're going through Jonny Steele on the left. They're talented enough that when they get a chance, they'll finish, but lately the build up hasn't been the most aesthetically pleasing thing in the world. Another recent trend is a serious deficiency of ideas in the final third and that hurt them, especially in the Whitecaps game.
But we all knew that. And all told, those aren't reasons to quit on a team that's paying you $200,000 (if only because they're paying you $200,000). Juninho, apparently, didn't know what he was in for.
With a roster featuring the likes of Henry and Tim Cahill, it's easy for Juninho to assume he's going to pull on a white shirt once a week, go out and run the midfield, knock in some free kicks, get three points, shower up, and enjoy New York. It was supposed to be a nice walk in the park, a nice send off for a player who won seven consecutive Ligue 1 titles. It wasn't that simple. It never is in MLS.
So what does this tell us about Juninho? He's just another big name player who couldn't cut it in MLS.
As MLS enters its young adulthood, still trying to figure things out for itself, there are going to be those, like Obafemi Martins, who extol the quality of the league. At the same time, there are going to be those, like Juninho, who don't know what they're getting into. Those guys end up with terminated contracts in mid-season. Or shortly after the season ends.
And that's the biggest takeaway: There's still a lot of ignorance about MLS. We laugh when agents express interest about their clients in coming over or when a clearly past it player gets aggressive about joining MLS. But there's no telling how serious they actually are. In Juninho's case, he was. It's attitudes and expectations like this force us to keep lists of powers lost when the expectations of their American vacation don't match-up with the realities.
It's not a list anyone wants to keep, but it's one we'll have to keep adding to, at least for the time being.