Friday, 12 February 2010

Agent Orange Reports: The Battle Of Saitama

Tomorrow marks the seventh installment of the Saitama City Cup. The last six times that the Saitama City Cup was held, it was in Saitama Stadium 2002 featuring a European team against Urawa Reds. The seventh installment will be a first in many regards.

It will be the first time that the Cup is held in a venue not named Saitama Stadium 2002. It will be the first time that one of the participants is not from Europe. And it will be the first time that Omiya will be playing the game. If you are keeping track at home, Saitama Urawa has played the game six times. Saitama Munich has played the game twice (Manchester United played once, but that was just confusing for everybody involved).

I could be wrong on this but I believe that Saturday's game marks the first time that Omiya has played an international match (not counting training games, or beating up on the Guam National Team. Although I would pay to see us score eighteen goals in a game, even if it was against hobos who were paid with bottles of Jinro). I can honestly say I've never been more excited about a meaningless match in putrid weather as I am about this one. Seriously. [So THAT's why you're bothering to do a big preview text for a pre-season friendly - F]

This will be the first chance for most of us to see what the 2010 Ardija squad looks like. It will also be interesting to see Omiya not play Yokohama F Marinos for the eightieth time; the fact that the opposition is international just makes it even sweeter. While Suwon Samsung Bluewings is no Manchester United, Barcelona, Inter Milan or Bayern Munich (they are kinda Feyenoord... well, maybe not, but Feyenoord? That's the best Urawa could do in 2003? Seriously?), they are two-time Asian Champions. They boast a plethora of national team players who we won't be seeing unless we watch Takeshi Okada's mishmash of FC Tokyo players, failures from 2006 and the corpse of Junichi Inamoto stink up yet another two hours of TV time.

International friendlies mean that we have matured as an organization and that we are stable J1 contributors, like Tokyo Verdy 1969 in 2005 or Oita Trinita last year. Oh, wait, no, that's not good... like Urawa between 2003 and 2008, playing against four of Europe's biggest teams, and Feyenoord, or Urawa in 2010 playing against Tokushima Vortis. I'm pumped!

Slumbering Giants

Part Two of my at least two-part preview of J-League teams that I hate focuses on three former Champions. Jubilo Iwata, Yokohama F Marinos and Urawa Reds all find themselves in a bit of flux. Jubilo has become the new hotspot for emerging Korean talent after Lee Keun Ho made a big splash in his debutant year. His partnership with J1 goal king Ryoichi Maeda helped to cover the stench of a decomposing defense. The team addressed this issue by bringing in the Korean tandem of Park Joo Hoo from Kashima Antlers and Lee Gang Jin from K-League side Busan I'Park. You might remember Lee from the 2005 Verdy squad, which boasted a league-worst 73 goals against. He will be paired with another former Verdy centerback in Daisuke Nasu, who was on last year's league worst defense. The big question for Jubilo is how much GK Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi has left in the tank and whether there is someone capable of replacing him.

For the past couple of years, Marinos has acted liked their inner-city rival, Yokohama FC, by making small buys and not really opting for any foreign help. Since Dutra, the team has not had a foreign star on its roster. The trend continues with foreign striker Pablo Bastianini from a second division squad in Argentina. They are hoping that cheap is the way to go. Since 2004, the squad has found itself in mid-table purgatory, flopping to a tenth-place finish and giving no inclination of moving up from it. The offense seems to be in decent shape, led by a strong midfield and a prodigy in Kazuma Watanabe, who scored in bunches last campaign. The defense is older and more suspect, losing Takanobu Komiyama to Kawasaki Frontale and loaning Kim Kuan Hoan to Montedio Yamagata, while reinforcing with an untested J2 player and ancient Mariner Yasuhiro Hato. Last year also saw cracks in the Yuji Nakazawa foundation, possibly producing his worst season ever as a Marinos player. It could get ugly.

Finally we have Urawa. A team with unfortunate mix of players who are either not yet in their prime or are slowly past it. The big blow for them was the departure of iconic defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka, who took his big game and his bigger histrionics down south to Nagoya Grampus. He is replaced by a 21-year-old Australian who spent time in the Bundesliga. The big signing for Urawa was in the midfield, where Yosuke Kashiwagi pairs up with Genki Haraguchi and Naoki Yamada to create the most over-hyped, pretty boy tandem in J-League history. I swear to God those dudes are ladyboys. Seriously... too pretty for the J-League. They look like Morning Musume with a twelve o'clock shadow.

Wait a minute. MIDFIELD MUSUME.

Their defense is porous, their offense is OK, they'll probably do better than us and I still hate them.

Prediction: Jubilo 11th, Yokohama 13th, Urawa 8th

A Song About The Weather

Orange! Going to freeze my friggin' nuts off!! Football!!!



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