Monday, 8 November 2010

Agent Orange: November Spawned A Scheduling Monster

It seems to happen every year. We get ourselves in relegation danger and then spring out of it with a fine November flourish. I have no idea why this happens. We've changed the makeup of the team twice over and yet we still manage to produce in November. Maybe it's because we face a combination of teams either playing for nothing, or not used to the pressure of being at the top/bottom.

By no means was yesterday's game against Montedio Yamagata a thing of beauty. It was more of a fender bender. It's no accident. Yamagata plays a very physical, defensive-oriented game. They hit anyone who has the ball close to the goal. They body up constantly and press consistently. Their scoring ambition is not of the highest quality - in fact, they sit in dead last in J1 goals scored this season.

What was surprising was the fact that we took over forty minutes to even get a shot off - even more surprisingly, we only got six shots in the whole game. Fortunately we had a strong finish by Rafael on a beautiful feed from Shin Kanazawa. Shockingly, that was our first ever J1 goal against last year's relegation favorites. Montedio would however respond with a beautiful free kick from journeyman Tatsuya Ishikawa, who has made a nice career for himself in Yamagata after a pretty awful stint for Tokyo Verdy (I saw most of those games, so I speak with some authority).

You kind of felt that the game was slipping away from us a bit after Ishikawa's equaliser. It felt like we were a man down in the game, missing some sort of spark. Jun Suzuki must have been sensing this as well because he brought on the hero from the Kawasaki Frontale match and substitute extraordinaire, Naoki Ishihara. Like clockwork, Ishihara would find the ball in front of him just moments into his shift, knocking the ball in from close range after a scramble in front of the net. The goal, while not only winning the game for Omiya, moved the diminutive striker to second on...

Omiya's All-Time List Of J1 Goalscorers

1. Chikara Fujimoto, 15 goals in 159 games
2. Naoki Ishihara, 14 goals in 59 games
3. Daigo Kobayashi, 14 goals in 90 games
4. Rafael, 11 goals in 31 games
5. Denis Marques, 11 goals in 42 games

The win over Montedio was a good start to a very long November haul. Up next is the postponed game against Shonan Bellmare and then it's a matchup against an injured and irritated Nagoya Grampus side. Decision time is approaching on what to do as regards Omiya lineups and rest. What do you do about so many frigging games? We have three equally unappealing choices:

a. go all out in every game and hope we either are in safe territory or have enough left in the tank to survive;
b. put out a weak squad for the Tennohai game against Avispa Fukuoka in midweek next week; or
c. put out a weak squad as a calculated risk in one of the league games

The obvious choice is b, but I actually kind of lean towards c. I think the Grampus game is gonna be a mess - we will be coming off a very short week following the trip to Shonan on Wednesday, we never win in Nagoya and they are pissed after losing to Kashima Antlers on Sunday. That said, things do look a little bit brighter for us with the news that Josh "Jesus" Kennedy will be suspended after picking up his fourth yellow card, rendering him out for the game. The abhorrent Marcus Tulio Tanaka will be back but not fully fit and Mu Kanazaki is doubtful.

It's not an easy choice for me because I'd like to see the team go deep in Tennohai. I think us making a strong Cup run would be a good way to end one of the most miserable seasons ever. I'd be shocked if it happened, but how wonderful would it be for us to come out victorious in the Emperor's Cup? If we do manage to win at Shonan it would put us up five points on both Vissel Kobe and FC Tokyo, tying us with Vegalta Sendai. That would make things very interesting.

Who To Root For In The Title Chase?

My first reaction is, Nobody. Honestly this year has some of the most unappealing contenders in recent memory. Shimizu S-Pulse was a very likeable team and I am disappointed that they couldn't keep their momentum up. Nagoya? It's a lovely city and I am a huge Chunichi Dragons fan, but... Grampus? So how about Kashima, again? I've been pretty clear on my thoughts about Osvaldo Oliveira and his pleas for "fairness".

How about that superteam from Kansai, Gamba Osaka? Really, they go under the radar for their unlikeability. They have bad defense. Coach Akira Nishino, the "Sir Alex Ferguson of Japan", is also quite a bedwetter in terms of crying foul over officiating. They seem not to have a foreign scouting department, instead vulturing good players from smaller Japanese clubs, selling them to teams in the Middle East and then wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth over their "plight".

Their fans are hyperbolic in their exploits, going waaay over the top in not only celebrating good moments and condemning bad plays against them, but also being overly dismissive of good performances by opponents. I read one report which described as "lucky" our goal against them in the recent game, a superb backheeled pass from Rafael setting up Yuki Fukaya to score. I guess we were lucky to be facing a porous defense.

There were also claims that Mato Neretljak's kick that saw him sent off was malicious. Nineteen minutes into a tie game and a guy is going to kick somebody in the face and pretty much end our chances because he has a grudge... even though the video shows him getting to the ball first? Bad judgement and a red card? Sure. Malicious? That's stupid. Could it possibly be that 191cm, 87kg centerbacks can't stop on a dime in mid-air?

So, it's tough, but I guess begrudgingly I am gonna pull for Nagoya to win J1. Even though they have Tulio and a full cast of miscreants and reprobates, they have managed a gaudy 11-0-0 record against the bottom seven teams. Kashima and Gamba for their parts have dropped points to multiple teams vying with us for survival: Gamba lost to Yamagata and Kobe, and tied FC Tokyo, Vegalta and Kyoto. Kashima dropped results to Sendai, tied FC Tokyo not once but twice, and have given points to both Kyoto and Shonan.

What do both teams have in common, besides a penchant for screwing us over by playing up for us and then taking their foot off the gas against our rivals? Both have been rumored to be pursuing Rafael. Tulio is repugnant, but he does in fact rent his Saitama house out to Rafael, so at least he doesn't want to see the toothy Brazilian leave Omiya. Hold your nose, but Nagoya is the clear choice in an ultimately dismal title race.


I've been lost in kind of a fog of relegation worries and a constant barrage of mizumashi so regretfully I had kind of lost track of the Taishi Tsukamoto story.

I was reminded of this because I got an email this morning saying that a guy who really was a father figure to me when I was very young had died of a brain tumor after a pretty long battle. I lost track of him, too, and am a little ashamed of that because he was an important person in my life. I know four people who have cancer, have battled it, or have died from it so I guess what I'm trying to say is while Ardija fans are stressing out about our future and potential road trips to Kyushu, we ought to remember to have a good thought for Taishi, who as far as I know is doing well.

Overall, a good weekend. Let's keep it going.



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