Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Agent Orange: Almost Famous

My third stop in places that start with K was in lovely Yamanashi and the strawberry fields of Kofu. There are places in Kofu where you can eat as many strawberries as you like for a half an hour. I did not partake in the strawberry smorgasbord. Instead, I just sat back and enjoyed the calm and clean air. I've been to Yamanashi four times and it is one of my favorite places in Japan. I can't totally explain why and I'm not going to go as far as to say I love it, but I definitely have a small crush on the place.

Before the game I was outside the stadium with a couple of friends and a gentleman was staring at me in an uncomfortable position. For the second time in a week I thought that there was a possibility of me getting sexually assaulted, except that on this occasion I wouldn't get a good haircut out of the deal. He started asking me questions in English, then went back to Japanese and I didn't really understand a word of either. I have no clue if he was a Kofu supporter, a fellow traveller from Omiya, or just a guy fresh out of the eikaiwa and fresh off his meds. This would foreshadow events after the game.

On the way home, our bus sidled up next to the team bus. Everybody waved to the players and they in turn looked up from their Game Boys and PSPs and greeted us back and off they went. About ten minutes later, we pull into a rest stop for a break and lo and behold, the squad were there to buy Hello Kitty key straps, delicious regionally-themed senbei and go to the little boys' room. Because there were about five urinals, a line had formed to use the toilet. I found myself standing behind Naoki Ishihara.

Now I was in the position of being awkward guy trying to start a conversation with a total stranger... or not, actually, because I didn't, until somebody from the group tapped Naoki on the shoulder and said, Hey, Ishihara, he wants to talk to you. Naoki was a very nice guy but we really didn't talk about anything for that painful minute or so because, (a) my Japanese is bad and, (b) I'm sort of uncomfortable talking to players when they are on their free time. Because I write this column from time to time, I am (barely, very barely and in no way professionally) media. So, I don't think it's fair that I talk to them on their free time without them knowing who I am. I think it's intrusive. Most importantly, I just feel like a douchebag when I do it.

Our old friend Mato Neretljak used to live by me and I saw him and his family a fair amount. I talked with him twice, once extended and the other time brief but I kind of felt bad about it both times (especially the second time because I told him "great game" after the FC Tokyo victory, unaware because I had to work during the match that he only played for about a minute). I'm not exactly sure when it's appropriate to start yapping it up with players.

Thoughts On Toshiya Miura

Speaking of old friends, there were a lot on display when we played Kofu.

I've been thinking of this for a while, but I still don't understand why anyone would hire Miura to take over a J1 squad. He's not a bad manager, it's just over his level. Really, I'm still asking why the guy who took Ventforet to J1, Kazuo Uchida, isn't leading them right now. Maybe he's not a good coach but at least he brought them up to J1. Fans would be more patient with a guy who actually accomplished something for the squad. Ken Matsushima at Rising Sun News is saying that Miura is on the hot seat a mere four games into the season because he has been squabbling with a fair number of his veterans due to his overly defensive, mind-numbingly boring soccer. I can't verify the first part, but I can attest to the second that, indeed, Miura has some of the most negative strategies in the J-League. Which is great for J2 but awful for J1.

The crowd on Tuesday was strange. I got the feeling that the Kofu supporters were thinking, "OK, we're here to root for you. We don't want to root for you, but we'll root for you." It was quiet and subdued, which is odd for a team that just got promoted to J1. In 2007, when they were on the verge of relegation, Kofu was one of the loudest crowds I've seen in person. How Satoru Sakuma can suck the life out of teams simply with his awful decision-making never ceases to amaze me.

Toshiya Miura worked in Omiya and Consadole Sapporo because he pulled them up from J2 and had the fans behind him. Last year at Kobe he was just a low-budget replacement who bored the fans to tears and made suspect personnel decisions. Even in Omiya, when he left at the end of 2006 there was kind of an undercurrent of relief that he was out the door - at least until Robert Verbeek introduced the squad to the dark arts of backpassing. It's not going to end well in Kofu, but it might end quick.

The place where Miura should coach is Sagan Tosu. Tosu is the only one of the ten original J2 squads never to taste the thrill of getting their ass kicked on a regular basis by bigger clubs in the higher division. They are always hovering around the fringes of promotion. They have nothing to lose by going with Miura. Besides, ultra-defensive has worked for promotion on more than one occasion (Yokohama FC comes to mind). As long as he isn't coaching here, I guess I really don't care. I do feel for Kofu.

Eleven Things I Learned In Kofu

1. Chikara Fujimoto is a human barometer. The team's performance was up and down all day. The first thirty minutes were dominant, the second were bad and the last third of the game was a mixed bag. Chikara started out playing great, doing the dirty work and dishing off a pass to set up Keigo Higashi on the goal. The second thirty saw the return of El Fantasista, which saw him ball holding, passing indecisively, jogging, and then making an errant play off a corner which led to Ventforet's goal.

2. One-half wonders. We have yet to yield a first half goal, which is good. Since the earthquake interlude, we have yet to score in the second half, which is bad.

3. Share the love. A by-product from the segregated scoring is the fact that our supporters have not got a good look at goals. Ten goals have been scored in games. Eight have taken place at the opposing end of the field.

4. The recurring PK theme. An odd coincidence in the past two weeks is that teams we played against and had reasonable arguments for penalties have then yielded PKs the week after. Kashiwa gave up a PK to Kofu on a less clear cut call than the takedown of Lee Chun Soo at NACK 5. On Tuesday, Kobe gave up not one, but two PKs to Albirex Niigata, who promptly wasted both of them. Albirex already has three on the season.

5. Clean game. This was the cleanest game of the four Omiya has played so far. The fouls were at a minimum and the game had some flow to it.

6. Kofu's Got Talent. It's not overflowing but Kofu has some legitimate J1 players on their squad. Everybody knows about Mike Havenaar, who made the decisive pass for the VFK equalizer while not having the best of days. Former Omiya keeper (no, not Hiroki Aratani) Kota Ogi made some nice saves and kept the game tied late. Yoshiro Abe is a legitimate threat who changed the game when he entered in the 32nd minute. Finally, Daniel is quite a player. He was the most impressive guy on the field against Ardija, shutting down Chun Soo, harassing Rafael all day long and then intercepting the pass to pitch it up to Havenaar on the Kofu goal.

7. Don't focus so much on Rafael. It seemed like the plan after the Higashi goal was to feed it in to Rafael as much as possible. He was a bit unfortunate to have a goal taken off the board because of an offsides call, but the impetus to feed Rafael kind of threw the rest of the team off their game. He's a professional and he'll get it going again.

8. SHOOT! Especially Lee Chun Soo. There were times when players were in the box and had space and refused to shoot, instead making low percentage passes in crowds. Chun Soo was the main culprit on the day.

9. Midfield scoring. In the four games so far, Omiya midfielders have two goals. It took them until week fourteen last year to get their second goal. The flip of this is that the defense has yet to score.

10. If Omiya didn't have a team anymore. I'd probably root for Kofu. Something about them appeals to me and I can't put my finger on it. Maybe it was the fact that they were fielding the Omiya All-Stars or the fact that they gave Arata Sugiyama a nice round of applause when he got introduced. That happens at far fewer places than you would think. To our credit we gave warm applause to all four of VFK's former Ardija players and Toshiya Miura as well.

11. It was good to see Keigo score. We've been waiting for Higashi to break through and he did a bit with a beautiful shot. Of our five goals so far this year, four have been really outstanding.

Niigata In Five Easy Steps

Niigata seems to be living a charmed life so far, still undefeated. The good news is they have yet to win at new NACK. Five keys to winning this weekend's game are:

1. Niigata has yet to trail in a game in 2011. Get at them early.

2. The refs love them for some reason. Be careful, especially in the penalty box. The good news is that they seem to have problems converting PKs.

3. The offense revolves around Bruno Lopes and Cho Young Chul. Make somebody else beat you. Lopes puts up about five shots a game, so try denying him the ball and watch out for Cho running in the box.

4. Rafael has a size advantage - use it. The whole Albirex squad is comparable in size to Omiya, so Kota Ueda and Higashi should get room to operate in this one.

5. Shoot and force corners. Along with Rafael, Yuki Fukaya and Kim Young Gwon should be able to get headers in the box.

As always...

Squirrels climb trees! Orange Happy Football!! Players don't want to talk to you when they are using the toilet!!!!

Give us a damn PK already!



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