Monday, 2 March 2009

Agent Orange's Pre-Season Preamble, pt 1

Well, another season is upon us, like a smelly salaryman slumbering on the local train and it seems like everyone has an opinion about how bad Omiya Ardija are. Again. Not one for rabid, starry-eyed optimism, I look at this season and I think to myself... I am starry-eyed and optimistic. This is a three-part series, so you won't know where I think the Mighty Squirrels will finish until I get to the end. I'll give you a hint, though: eighth place.

Anyhow, let's start from the bottom and work our way up.

Montedio Yamagata is everyone's choice to sit at the bottom and I grudgingly agree. When you barely get into J1 and your major pick-up is Ryo Kobayashi... well, that's tough. Honestly, I don't care either way if they survive or not, just as long as they do the right thing and give us a full six points.

The second squad that I'm picking to drop will be a surprise to everyone, except Ken Matsushima at Rising Sun News (you can read his preseason prognosticationhere). He doesn't quite go this far, but I'm picking Oita Trinita for the drop. I hate that negative brand of soccer and I don't think you can get away with packing it in and hoping for success two years in a row.

I think it tells your team that you don't believe that they are good enough to survive without gimmicks. And one losing streak will cause the team to stop believing in the magic. But the third team was not so clear cut. I wasn't crazy about the off-season that JEF United had and I don't really buy the Sir Alex [Miller] myth. But you already knew that, so I'm picking them... to finish thirteenth.

Albirex Niigata dropped a fourteen-goal scorer for a guy coming off a bad season and Pedro Junior. Pedro Junior scored three goals last year. Two were against Niigata. Who is he gonna score against now? What Niigata does have is possibly the most underrated player in the J-League in Marcio Richardes. 11-6-7 in games he plays in and 0-3-7 in games he doesn't. Wrap him in bubble wrap and don't let anyone hit him. Fourteenth place.

Yokohama F Marinos is trying yet again to do things with smoke and mirrors. I think they will sag early and finish decent again, but going up top with a college guy and Mike Havenaar is not gonna cut it. And really they lost more than they gained. Twelfth place. Kashiwa Reysol goes with the same squad essentially but drops a great coach in Nobuhiro Ishizaki for his understudy in Shinichiro Takahashi.

I kinda liken this to when Peter Gabriel left Genesis and they added Phil Collins. Now I never listened to Peter Gabriel in Genesis and although the Phil Collins edition was financially a boon, ... how do I put this gently... it sucked. C'mon, Peter Gabriel made art and Phil Collins wrote the theme to Disney's Tarzan. Still, they do have some talent. Eleventh.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima was one that at the start of the year I thought would be decent. But they added nobody really. And they pretty much are the same squad that got relegated two years ago. And their coach really is mediocre. And they won the J2 crown. Like Kyoto Sanga, Yokohama FC and Consadole Sapporo before them. I think it's a mistake to think that you can keep up with the speed when you've been out of the league for a year. They have a ton of talent, but it's a different game. Fifteenth.

Kyoto Sanga is always a squad that people talk about getting dropped, no matter who they put on the field. I for one am a bit dubious about whether or not Diego will fit into the team structure; they struggled on defense last year and Diego ain't the keenest of defenders. That being said, this is probably the deepest and most talented since Gert Engels led them to the Emperor's Cup. Ninth. Relax, Gora.

Who does that leave? Gamba Osaka. Now Gamba has played more games than the rest of the league, they have fitness problems, their defense looks awful; and they have a leader in Yasuhito Endo who looks like he is this close to collapse. I didn't pay attention to the Xerox Cup over the weekend. I thought this beforehand. Adding Asian sightseeing trips and World Cup qualifiers is the surest way to wear out a team. And the best way to stop an attacking team is fatigue: tired teams don't score. And bad defensive teams who rely on out-scoring opponents don't do that when they are tired. Tenth.

Jubilo Iwata will do what they should have done last year and drop. Very talented, but very dysfunctional. The sum of their parts doesn't equal their whole. They really remind me of the old Kashiwa team that dropped in 2005. Sixteenth.

So that means:

9. Kyoto
10. Gamba
11. Kashiwa
12. Marinos
13. JEF
14. Niigata
15. Hiroshima
16. Jubilo
17. Oita
18. Yamagata

Tune in next time to see who I think will win the J-League and where Omiya sits in the table... hint, eighth place!



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