Monday, 2 March 2009

Agent Orange's Pre-Season Preamble, pt 2

So here is Part Deux. Let's dig into it.

I'm very tempted to choose the Antlers as threepeat (copyright Pat Riley) champions. They would, I believe, be the first ones to ever pull off that gaudy feat. And if you asked me who has the best coach, best scorer, best defense, best team concept and best chemistry, I would say the Antlers. However, it is very difficult to stay focused at a championship level for an extended period of time. Three years is nearly impossible, especially in a league where the talent from first to sixteenth isn't as great as in other leagues. Add the pressure of keeping up with the Gambas and the Reds (and Jubilo and Yomiuri FC) in terms of regional glory and you see that there is a lot going on that falls out of the control of coach Oswaldo de Oliveira. The Yuya Osako circus doesn't help matters, either. Second.

Kawasaki Frontale always seems to hover around the top, but can't push over the hump. I'll tell you why: DEFENSE! Really. They don't have the back five to get that one crucial game they need to win. It's like a less drastic Gamba situation. They play the most attractive football in the league and boast the most weapons up top, but that defense is ordinary. Third.

Year two of Pixymania begins - and I'm still not a fan. Nagoya Grampus lost to a lot of bad teams last year and they rely way too much on the talented yet fragile leg of Magnum. He did a good job getting them up among the contenders, but jumping up from tenth to third is not as hard as going from third to first. What's the deal with his tantrums? You think that's not going to wear on a team after a while? I like the addition of Davi; let's see if he can score with actual expectations on his shoulders. Fourth.

Shimizu S-Pulse added the Norwegian Whose Name Should Never Be Uttered and Yuichiro Nagai to bolster the two young guys up top. Not a bad move, considering that they were lacking there for large stretches. I'm not sure if either will fit Kenta Hasegawa's system. It seems like the Shizuoka Orange needs speed to succeed (hey, wasn't that Top Gun?) and I see those two causing the game to get slower. I'm not a big fan of their keeper, either. It seems like they will be in this position forever unless something really drastic happens. I'm not sure S-Pulse is willing to do it. Fifth.

Vissel Kobe looks like they are trying to copy yet another team in the hope of winning a championship. First they tried the Verdy model of bringing in has-beens: relegation. Next they tried the Gamba method of buying other team's players: mediocrity. Now they are trying to model themselves on Kashima, right down to their Oliveira knock-off manager and their defensive style. I LIKE IT! Sixth.

That leaves two teams and I'll be damned if I'm gonna pick FC Tokyo. That team really didn't add much over the winter to a team that was mid-table. If you are Kashima, I get it. If you aren't, I think it's a mistake. The defense is a little soft. I like the offense. The big problem I have with FC Tokyo is that they don't seem to be mentally strong enough to succeed: they tie the last game of 2008 against JEF United and they win money. They hold a lead against a fairly bad team and they get fourth place and more money. Instead, they throw away a two-goal lead and lose. I can't point to one guy on that team who is gonna step up and make the big play when the pressure is on. Kashima has it. Urawa has it. Nagoya has it in goal. But FC Tokyo? Seventh.

I hate this. I really do. I think that this is the year Urawa Reds comes back and wins. They have a good guy at the helm who has the authority to do what he wants to win. They cleared out some of the logjam at forward. Nobody is really safe from getting pulled. They don't have the ACL to worry about. I don't quite get the infatuation with Sergio Escudero, but whatever. They have enough internal pressure and enough firepower to overtake Kashima. From the little I've seen, they also have been the most focused squad in camp. It seems like they want it more than anyone else. And, conveniently, they have a closing date with Kashima in Urawa. AMAZING J! First.

To summarise:

1. Urawa
2. Kashima
3. Kawasaki
4. Nagoya
5. S-Pulse
6. Kobe
7. FC Tokyo



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