Sunday, 7 February 2010

Agent Orange Reports: 28 Days Later

In less than one month, Omiya Ardija embarks on Year Six of their J1 adventure. And I myself embark on Year Six of being in Japan... spooky! After three pre-season matches in which guys named Daisuke Watabe, Shunsuke Fukuda and Masahiko Ichikawa scored, I have no idea how the season will go for Ardija. I guess you could say I am also in preseason form. I've been reading the predictions and it seems they have our defense ranked fairly low. But I tend to rank us too high, so I don't know. This column is going to be more of a Rorschach test with bits and fragments of various things... bear with me.

I've been perusing the rosters of the three new entries to J1 this year and chances are that at least one of them is going back down to J2 again next year. History supports this; when three teams have been promoted in the same season from J2 to J1, at least one has failed to avoid relegation. In 2005, Kyoto Sanga, Avispa Fukuoka and Ventforet Kofu came up; Fukuoka and Kyoto were dropped the next year. In 2006, Kashiwa Reysol, Vissel Kobe and Yokohama FC came up; Yokohama FC was dropped the next year. 2007 saw Consadole Sapporo, Tokyo Verdy and Kyoto come up; Consadole and Verdy were dropped the next year.

In contrast, 2008 saw only two teams - Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Montedio Yamagata - get promoted. Like the Kawasaki Frontale / Omiya promotions of 2004, both survived. In all the cases of three-team promotion years, the champion was then relegated in a most embarrassing display. And this year, the thing that jumps out at me about Vegalta Sendai is that they made no major upgrades to a team that barely took it at the wire. They have a good J2 defense, an average J2 offense and no experience at J1 level. Let's start at goalkeeper.

Between the three choices at keeper, they have a combined two games of J1 experience. Shigeru Sakurai had one appearance for Kofu when they were in J1 a few years ago; the other appearance was by Takuto Hayashi for Sanfrecce... in 2002. Sendai's starting defense combines has played many J1 games as Furtho and myself [268?! - F]. Naoki Chiba makes up all the experience in the midfield with 25 games in J1; Yuto Sato was his teammate and the year was 2003. Yuki Nakashima had 23 appearances at forward for Kashima. That's it. Kohei Tokita has as much J1 experience as all of Vegalta's starting field players.

They added a couple of talented but flaky players in the midfield in the mercurial Fernandinho - now joining a fifth team in his storied J-League career - and Yoshiaki Ota, who put together a couple of great offensive seasons for Jubilo, got hurt, and then decided he wanted to play in Europe without worrying about details like a contract. They also added a MF from Sagan Tosu. It goes without saying that he has no experience at the J1 level. I think everyone has put stock in the fact that Sendai made a run in the Emperor's Cup last year, eliminating three J1 teams and taking the champs to the wire.

Not a great precedent: Thespa Kusatsu went to the final eight after knocking off Yokohama F Marinos and proceeded to come back the next year and be one of the worst J2 teams ever.

Shonan Bellmare, on the other hand, reads like a Who's Who of discarded J-League players. They actually remind me of that first Omiya J1 squad. Shonan has a base of former Albirex Niigata players, in DF Naoto Matsuo, MF Yoshito Terakawa and GK Yosuke Nozawa. This forms the core of players over thirty (Kohei Usui, Koji Sakamoto and Jean also figure as starters). The team's identity has basically been that of their two foreign imports, Jean (four years) and Adiel (five years), who have featured with the club for a long time.

The one young bright shining light for the Bellmartians has been Taisuke Muramatsu, a twenty-year-old centerback who took over the starting slot last year and impressed so much, he now finds himself on the outskirts of National Team regularity. I think Shonan will fail this year because they don't have depth. If you have read my theory about team success and uniforms, this doesn't help the Shonan cause.

The final member of the promotion trio lies in the football mecca of Osaka, where Cerezo boasts not one but two young national team midfield candidates in the wildly praised Shinji Kagawa and the mildly praised Takashi Inui. They combine these young talents with a trio of Brazilian stars in Martinez, Amaral and Adriano, as well as a couple of crosstown refugees in the form of striker Ryuji Bando and midfielder Akihiro Ienaga.

The Cherries' defense is a little more porous, but Cerezo addressed this with the additions of Taikai Uemoto (Oita Trinita) and Teruyuki Moniwa (FC Tokyo). Goalkeeping is the real trouble spot this year, with the promising but inexperienced Kim Jin Hyeon the presumed starter, followed by a group of inexperienced backups. Levir Culpi enters his fourth year as head man of a very talented but very under-acheiving team. If this team starts flat, he could be the first man fired.

Predictions: Vegalta 16th, Shonan 18th, Cerezo 9th

αντίο Daigo

I forget when it happened, but Daigo Kobayashi decided to forego Omiya for good and chase his dream of playing in every B level European league possible. This time he has chosen Iraklis Thessaloniki, who aren't very good but they do play Olympiakos a lot. He's trying to live his dream and get noticed by the Premier League and the National Team - and I get that you aren't gonna get noticed at Omiya, but this path seems kind of misthought. Like Kenji Fukuda or, in a best case scenario, Junichi Inamoto.

Matsu at Rising Sun News touched on this before the site went kabloom, but there is some weird fetish with Europe and soccer players and fans in Japan. I think Daigo falls into it. Look at the careers of Mitsuo Ogasawara versus Inamoto. One has spent the majority of his career with one team, picking up five domestic titles and ten in total. Then look at the other, who appeared for Arsenal, featured at Fulham and then turned out for teams in Turkey, France, Germany and England, all the while starting for his national team, but never winning a championship at any of his club stops.

Which career would you want? I'd say the former, I imagine most fans would say the latter. Daigo Kobayashi has chosen the latter. On a team level, I'm glad it was a sale and not a rental. Having the Daigo specter hovering over the team from afar wasn't gonna do any good. He wasn't going to come back... to Omiya, at least. I think that was set in stone when they cut his friend Hiroshi Morita. I seriously think that was the moment that he was gone. I hope he does well in Europe.

Schedule Ponderings

Our first four games are problems. Cerezo and their two starlets are the first encounter. I imagine we get Takeshi Okada in the crowd at the first one, just to make sure Kagawa has an easy time in their first match. After that is the home opener of Vegalta Sendai, where they will dive and foul their way to a win in front of their crazy, crazy fans. Then we get Kashima and crying Oswaldo Oliveira. Finally it's FC Tokyo for the annual fill-in-the-number-to-nil loss at home. Outstanding. If we can get six points out of those first four, we should be OK. Maybe this will be the year that we score a goal at home against FC Tokyo? I think I would cry.


Wow. Aggressive Shift: Stronger, Deeper, Higher (I think I saw that movie. Maybe it was called Aggressive Shaft: Deeper, Thicker, Harder but who keeps track?). [GGOA welcomes disappointed Googlers! - F]. Anyhow, in both cases a lot of suck was involved. Something that kind of sounds like the slogan but does not suck is this classic from the 60s involving a murderer, a wife beater and Tina Turner. And it looks like it was filmed by Charles Manson.

Orange! Got my season seat in the mail so I'm stuck going again in 2010!! Football!!!



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