Sunday, 28 February 2010

Agent Orange Reports: Taishi

In the five-plus years that I have considered myself a member of the Squirrel Republic, there have been a few things that have shocked me. Nothing, though, prepared me for the news that Taishi Tsukamoto has cancer. I thought I knew the reason why he wasn't playing in October. I was reasonably sure of the reason why he wasn't at the FanFesta. I was absolutely positive about the reason why he didn't go to camp in January and February. Finally, I was not shocked at all when I heard that he was going to be cut. It was simple: Jang Wae Ryong didn't like him and it angered me because I didn't think it was fair.

Boy, did I blow that one. In this case I wish I had been right.

The good news is that the team is stepping up and doing the right thing for the player by supporting him and letting him stay on the registry as an Omiya Ardija player. I'm happy for that and think the team should be applauded for it. It's easy to criticize them for bad decisions, I think it should be just as easy to praise them for good decisions. Cancer is never simple, but I think it's not terminal. Even if Taishi doesn't play again, football has allowed him to earn a college degree and have a foundation for life outside the game.

It's tempting to eulogize his career and talk about it in the past tense. I don't want to do that. There's still a chance that my favorite Omiya player will come back someday and put another free kick into the back of the net. Even though it doesn't look good. Tsukamoto, you're not done yet.


In happier news, I'm gonna barrel out the last of my predictions in one fell swoop in order to get this out of the way in time for the beginning of the J-League season. Here goes!

To sum up my previous picks:

18. Shonan
16. Sendai
15, 14, and 12. Kobe, Kyoto and Yamagata will fill the three spots
13. Marinos
11. Jubilo
9. Cerezo
8. Urawa

I'll do a preview of Omiya later and although I actually think they will finish seventh - like my prediction last year - legally speaking I'm not allowed to make any other pick than tenth for this year due to the year-long GGOA theme of TENTH IN '10!!, so there you go. Of the other teams still left on the board, however...

Shimizu S-Pulse bothers me with their offseason. I like the Shinji Ono addition because unlike Junichi Inamoto, he's actually won something. They can sell a bunch of merchandise and he can help mentor the younger Shimizu midfielders. What I don't like is the addition of Eddy Bosnar. Or what I really should say is, I kinda do like it because when last we saw him, he was making Denis Marques and Yoshihito Fujita look like Usain Bolt. Imagine what he'll do for Dudu! Seventh. [Eh? - F]

I absolutely can't stand FC Tokyo... hate 'em with a passion. But I think they had a nice offseason. Taking Toshihiro Matsushita from Albirex Niigata and stealing Masato Morishige from Oita Trinita were really good moves. Defensively they are solid. Where the wheels come off, though, is in the injury department. Not only will they start without Yohei Kajiyama and Naohiro Ishihara, they might not have the services of wonderboy Takuji Yonemoto for a year. That's 75% of their midfield. Neither am I crazy about Ricardinho. He wasn't very good in his time in Dallas and I'm not sure he's going to be great here either. Sixth.

No team goes into 2010 with more expectations of success than Kawasaki Frontale. The perennial bridesmaid managed to come up just short again in every competition they attempted last year. Kawasaki grabbed DF Takanobu Komiyama in the offseason in an attempt to plug up a sieve-like defense, although their big addition was of the highly acclaimed and highly rusty Inamoto, who spent the winter with the Japanese National Team and not with Frontale. That lack of familiarity with teammates combined with injuries to key offensive pieces Kengo Nakamura, Juninho and Vitor Junior will probably mean that the team starts slow out of the gate. In a very close and very competitive division, that probably spells failure. Fifth.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima reshuffled in the offseason, losing playmaker Yosuke Kashiwagi to Midfield Musume on the bad side of Saitama and gaining GK Shusaku Nishikawa from Oita. It will be interesting to see how the team handles the rigors of ACL life, but I think they will be about the same as last year. Fourth.

Gamba is Gamba. I think they will start out strong and be betrayed by a defense they never seem to address. Ze Carlos? Another forward? What happened to Pedro Junior? Was that an attempt to kill off Albirex? Third.

It's hard to do this to a team that has one of the best playmakers in the league in Marcio Richardes but I'm gonna. How do you go from being a dark horse title contender to a mess in a mere five months? They replaced coach Jun Suzuki with former Omiya player Hisashi Kurosaki, who makes his managerial debut. They lose Gilton and Mitsuru Chiyotanda from the number two defense in the league and replace them with... nobody. They add Yoshiyuki Kobayashi and lose a younger, more versatile Matsushita. They went from Everton Santos and Pedro Junior to JEF retread Michael and Yamagata reject Fagner.

Finally, most importantly and most overlooked is that they lost GK Takashi Kitano and are replacing him with a combination of Takahiro Takagi (who is out for six months with injury and was flamed for ten goals in his last two appearances between the sticks), Masaaki Higashiguchi (who has played one game and let in five goals) and Takaya Kurokawa (who last got meaningful minutes in 2007... for Regional Leaguers Japan Soccer College). There's always one team that drops from the higher echelon and this year it's Albirex. Seventeenth.

Of the final two contenders, Nagoya Grampus had the better offseason. Adding pieces such as Chiyotanda, Marcus Tulio Tanaka and Mu Kanazaki to an already decent line-up was a real coup. Like Kawasaki however, the National Team has got in the way of cohesion. Kashima meanwhile is making themselves into a dynasty, picking up players to add to their depth. Osvaldo Oliveira is a huge crybaby but he's also a great head man. Dragan "Pixy" Stojkovic, on the other hand, is a great motivator but not the best tactician in the world. However, there's a lot to be said for teams that are hungry to win and I think that of all the competitors, Nagoya is the hungriest.

But Kashima is still the best. Nagoya second, Kashima first.

Final Thoughts On The Preseason

Omiya wrapped up the 2010 preseason with shutouts over JEF United and Waseda University. After a 2-1 loss to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in our first practice match, the starting back four of Kazuhiro Murakami, Yuki Fukaya, Mato Neretljak and Arata Sugiyama only allowed one penalty in their time together on the field. That includes games against Sapporo, Kashiwa, Suwon, Gamba, FC Tokyo, Yamagata and JEF. Barring injuries to key members, we could be seeing the makings of a really strong back line.

Sunday's game against Waseda University saw a midfield of Takuya Aoki, Masakazu Kihara, Jun Kanakubo and Daisuke Watabe, not one of them over the age of 23. I'm not sure if we ever could have done that before. Missing from the scrimmage was Seo Yong Duk. Actually, the Waseda match gives a pretty strong impression of what team will be taking the field against Cerezo Osaka next week. I'm guessing it will be:

GK Kitano
DF Sugiyama
DF Fukaya
DF Neretljak
DF Murakami
MF Fujimoto
MF Kanazawa
MF Ahn
MF Hashimoto
FW Ishihara
FW Rafael

With a bench of:

GK Ezumi
DF Tsubouchi
MF Tokita
MF Uchida
FW Ichikawa
FW Fujita
FW Watabe or Seo

Dudu looked like he was in good shape. We'll see.

Song Of The Week

Bring on FC Molly Ringwald!

Orange! Get Well, Taishi!! Football!!!



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