Saturday, 8 May 2010

Agent Orange: The Classic

I've found myself bitching and moaning about the J-League and their eternal wisdom in postponing Ardija's game against Kawasaki Frontale this weekend, even though they are out of the ACL and so will not be doing anything on the 11th. I'm still upset about the fact that we not only have to start our season over against a stocked Kawasaki team who should be getting all their regulars back from the World Cup, but we also have to face a completely rested Nagoya Grampus side three days later. Of the eight teams affected by the ACL delay, arguably Omiya has the hardest slog.

However, in an odd sort of way, I should be thanking the intelligentsia at J-League headquarters for postponing the game, because instead I had the chance to watch Yokohama F Marinos take on Urawa Reds. You can lift your jaw off the floor. Let me backtrack.

On Wednesday, I got on a bus and headed north to Yamagata on the last day of my dearly-departed Golden Week holiday. Beautiful day, Yamagata and the whole Tohoku area were lovely and I enjoyed my trip. The outdoor part of Montedio's stadium (it's all outdoors, I know... I'm talking about outside the stadium walls) is probably the best part of the experience. There is a fine food selection and the area with the practice field and park atmosphere is nice.

When you get inside the stadium, there's where your problems begin. Montedio has a stadium where the home section is in Yamagata while the away stand sits in Miyagi. I swear it's true. They also boast a stripper DJ as an announcer and take their sweet ass time announcing names. The product on the field is some of the most dire, offensively non-offensive football I've seen since 2007, when people were bitching about us. I'm not faulting Montedio for this - there's something admirable about a coach who works on a shoestring budget and squeezes results with a less talented but completely dedicated group of players. They buy into the system, so it works.

As for the match, Yamagata had the lion's share of calls in the first half, getting no fewer than eight free kicks near or on the edge of the Omiya box. Every time a home player went down, they would get a call. It didn't really help them at all - they were dire on set pieces and couldn't manage more than two shots from all those chances. Ardija, on the other hand, came out flat and couldn't connect even two or three passes together.

The game was unfortunately decided on a PK. It was clearly the right call and the official was a lot more evenhanded after the break, but it's still unfortunate that an official's decision decided the game... although you could say Shin Kanazawa decided the game, with his unnecessary foul in a position where the Montedio player was not going to do anything to threaten us. The whole trip to Yamagata really was kind of a waste of time, even though I did enjoy myself... alright, maybe it wasn't a waste of time, but I did lose some precious bedtime minutes so I'm still a bit bitter about the whole thing.

Fast forward to today and the game between Marinos and Urawa. I never thought I'd say this about two teams I don't care for at all, but... bravo, it was a classic. Nick Hornby detailed his elements for a perfect game in the book Fever Pitch (if you haven't read it, it's not bad. I enjoy reading it every now and then. I'm not going to tell you what you should and shouldn't read, though. I'm not friggin' Oprah Winfrey). What I am going to do is tell you...

Agent Orange's Ingredients For A Classic Game

1. The stadium needs to be nearly full - Saitama Stadium had over 48,000 today.

2. It needs to be loud and both sets of fans need to represented - Marinos had their section filled and you could hear them on TV. Good enough for me.

3. The teams need some sort of history between them - When I first got to Japan, the first game I saw was Urawa Reds versus Yokohama F Marinos for the title in 2004. Since that time, Marinos has stolen one of the Reds' better talents in Koji Yamase and embarrased them on a couple of occasions, including a 6-1 drubbing in the 2008 season finale.

4. The ref needs to be good - Mr Takayama was excellent today. There was some contact on different plays but he let it go because it didn't really have a bearing on the play. There were no calls you could outraged over and he didn't miss any big decisions either. You contrast that with the job that Mr Hojo did in Yamagata on Wednesday and it's night and day. I'm not saying that Hojo was biased in favor of Montedio either - in the second half he was good and he adjusted well.

What I'm saying is that Hojo killed the flow of the first half by calling unnecessary fouls. Yamagata looked far more dangerous after the interval, when they weren't getting calls. The official can really kill a game in both overt (Junpei Iida with his penalty fetish or Tokyo no Murakami with his "equal" meting of the law, as stark examples) and covert ways. When somebody does a job like Takayama did today, it deserves to be mentioned and it hardly ever is.

5. Both teams need to be eager to attack - I don't think Yamagata in its current incarnation will ever be involved in a "classic" game because they aren't geared for attack. They need to have their backs to the wall and be forced out of their shell. This was a team that in one game last year managed no shots at all, so they are dedicated to defense. And I don't blame them: Montedio need to survive and build a core group of fans so they can be a legitimate J1 squad. We aren't going to be involved in many classic games because we don't have the attacking pieces in the middle to play that way. We have to grind out wins.

Marinos and Urawa boast some of the more talented attackers in the J-League. On one side you had Shunsuke Nakamura, Koji Yamase, Kazuma Watanabe and Kenta Kano. The other side boasted Robson Ponte, Edmilson, Tatsuya Tanaka and Yosuke Kashiwagi. All of these guys can either create for other people or put the ball in the net themselves. Both teams commited to attacking right from the outset and kept the pressure up until the end.

6. The keepers need to be having good days - No comedy goals allowed. Both keepers shared some of the responsibility on one goal each, but both came up with some pretty good saves.

7. One WOW! goal- Watanabe's crack to start off the game made me say WOW! It was a good shot out of nowhere.

8. Teamwork - There has to be some interplay between the players that catches the eye. Both of Urawa's goals were products of multiple passes. It was a nice team effort on their part and it made me have the teeniest bit of respect for them.

9. One standout effort - This can be on the offensive or defensive part of the game. Squirrels keeper Koji Ezumi standing on his head and ultimately falling against Nagoya a couple of years ago is the most vivid recollection of an Omiya player putting in a truly classic performance. Koji Yamase did that on the winning goal for Marinos today with his perserverance on the ball, wrestling it away from Keisuke Tsuboi in the box and setting up Watanabe to score.

10. The game has to flow - There were a ton of stops in the Yamagata game with players rolling around on the ground and the official making a ton of calls. Didn't see that today. I was especially surprised that Urawa didn't do their normal routine of rolling on the ground and crying... until Sergio Escudero came in and started whining. Maybe losing Marcus Tulio Tanaka was a good thing.

11. No "superstar" calls - I have seen a trend this year of potential National Teamers getting really favorable calls. Yuji Nakazawa always seemed to get them but not so much in this game. Credit to him, though, he wasn't rolling around on the ground today.

12. You could hate both teams and still appreciate the game - Done and Done. Yokohama F Marinos equals Nakazawa, who jerked Ardija around in 2009 playing the girl with too many choices as to who would take her to the big dance, always knowing who she would go with but milking it for all the attention. Urawa is self-explanatory. A classic is the kind of game where even if we were playing a team that I despised, but we played great in a loss and the other team won fairly with a superb performance, I could reflect on the game and say, That was really entertaining.

Nice show and a good choice by TBS today to show to a sleepy afternoon crowd.

More Yamagata Musings

1. It was good to see the return of Rafael from two months of injury purgatory - He looked a little rusty but still created two fairly dangerous chances for us in his appearance. His return has basically killed the confidence of Yoshihito Fujita though. I'm not sure Fujita will ever be successful here, and that's a shame because he has talent. He was cutting off runs on playable balls early and not pulling the trigger on open shots. It didn't help that Naoki Ishihara was doing nothing in the game as well.

2. The midfield is obviously a wreck - We need somebody there to step up. Jang Wae Ryong experimented with 4-3-3, but maybe 4-5-1 is the way to go if Dudu is going to be a contributor. I'd line it up like this:

GK Kitano
RB Sugiyama
CB Tsubouchi / Fukaya
CB Neretljak
LB Murakami
DM Kanazawa
RM Ishihara
CM Hashimoto / Dudu
LM Kanakubo
FW Rafael

I don't ever picture Dudu being more than a twenty-to-thirty minute sub, but he did seem to click with Rafael, working a couple nice combinations. His shot is baby-poop soft and about as accurate as one of Saddam Hussein's old scud missiles but he looks like he could be a contributor in Jun Suzuki's plans.

3. The defense was not too bad - Kanazawa had a shocker on the foul though. Clear call. My only contention was that the Yamagata player had Kanazawa hooked with his arm. I've seen that play go against us on the offensive end and the official calling our forward for a foul because he hooked the defender. I'll admit I don't completely undertand the rules on that and I am not a big fan of PKs in general, but I can see the foul on that play against us. I'd like to see it called consistently one way or the other. That's my only gripe.

4. I wished Koji Ezumi was between the sticks for the PK - For my money, he's the best keeper in Japan at stopping PKs. I think Takashi Kitano was a good pickup and is a better keeper, but Ezumi has the quality of stopping what usually is an easy goal. That's a rare trait and something I hope he teaches Kitano. I'd kind of like to see him get subbed in on those occasions late in the game, like a reliever in baseball. Maybe put him in, have Kitano move up to forward for a minute or two and then sub him out for a forward a few moment later and have Kitano move back in at keeper. That would be interesting and noteworthy! I don't know if it's legal though.

5. I like Jun Kanakubo's game - I really do. He's a bit sloppy but he has something. What I really don't like is his constant whining to the refs. He was at it again on Wednesday. I know he's trying to fill in for Chikara Fujimoto, but that part of the game isn't necessary. Maybe we aren't getting calls because we're annoying the refs. Just a thought.


This meets all my criteria for a video classic. Enjoy!


Barry from S-Pulse's UK Ultras blog posted something in the Comments section of my last GGOA column and I just need to clarify. I feel kind of bad mentioning the two idiots at the Shimizu game because it reflects badly on Shimizu as a whole and that was definitely not my intention. I thought that the fans were great there except for the few latecomers who couldn't figure out that there was a crowd of people coming to watch a game, not to see them stand around with their mouths open looking for a seat.

I've come in contact with good and bad fans almost everywhere, including at Omiya, so I'm absolutely not judging Shimizu by two idiots. Barry said it and I agree: the main problem is the lack of an away section at Nihondaira. I wish we all were better people, but occasionally you get individuals just too wrapped up in themselves to be concerned with others. That's why we give people their own space.

I apologize for that and hope that nobody took offense. What bugs me about S-Pulse (and Marinos for that matter) is that they both shelled out three points to a weak Albirex squad... C'mon, we aren't gonna stay up without your help! Shizuoka did the double on us with Jubilo Iwata's loss to Vissel Kobe today, putting Ardija in a cozy seventeenth place. Maybe that will get Haruo Yuuki fired and we can bring in somebody who will get us some midfielders!

Orange! Can't believe I wrote something nice about Urawa!! Football!!!



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