Monday, 25 July 2011

Agent Orange: Expecting The Worst

It was at Yuratec stadium last year that Omiya's season was derailed. Even though Rafael had gone down with injury and we were all still in a bit of shock over the news of Taishi Tsukamoto's cancer, we had come off an opening day 3-0 drubbing of Cerezo Osaka and our spirits were high. For the first time in a long time, our team was likeable and sympathetic... and then Vegalta Sendai crushed us, outfighting Ardija to pull off a 3-1 win.

I was dreading Saturday's trip to Sendai for various reasons but as a fan of Omiya and the J-League, I just had to go. Maybe it was my imagination running wild but I guess my expectation was that the region post-tsunami would be like a disaster movie, with refugees and charred rubble everywhere. Granted, I wasn't in the harder-hit parts of Miyagi but if you hadn't heard about March 11th, you wouldn't really have known anything had happened in Sendai. I think that's a good thing.

I was also dreading going to Sendai because in our most recent string of contests with Vegalta, we haven't even been competitive. The last three games were blowouts, with a combined 10-1 score. Half of the goals by Sendai were the products of set pieces and if you watched the last four games, you know that I don't really have to continue the sentence.

Before we arrived at the stadium, Iwate prefecture got hit with a 6.5 earthquake and rumors were circulating among Squirrels fans that Chikara Fujimoto wasn't going to play much because of poor fitness. I was more worried about the former than the latter, although to be fair to be Fujimoto he had a really good game against Yokohama F Marinos last weekend. Long story short, against Sendai Fujimoto was so-so, but Lee Chun Soo showed up and the team answered the physicality of Vegalta to earn a very important win. Iwate earthquake aside, from a footballing perspective it was a perfect day... almost.

Now, I shouldn't do this after a good win and a good effort but I have to be critical of one thing. Why in the hell is Daigo Watanabe still playing? The former Kyoto Sanga player has failed to impress at Omiya, even though he's leaving an impression. Watanabe started his nervous twenty-minute shift at Sendai by botching a throw-in and kick-starting a Vegalta break for a corner, and ended the game by missing on a point-blank shot mere meters away from what appeared to be an open net. Badly.

Last Monday I saw Watanabe in a training match and it also was not good. He did have a nice cross to a diving Shintaro Shimizu for the second goal in a 3-3 draw with FC Tokyo. Which is ironic, because his awful decision to pass lackadaisically across the field to Yosuke Kataoka deep in Omiya territory led to Tatsuya Suzuki easily stealing the ball and putting it past Koji Ezumi for Tokyo's own second.

Remember the Urawa Reds game in June when Kota Ueda had a rolling shot tipped in by Watanabe for a late winner? No, me neither. What actually happened was that he managed to nullify Ueda's effort by being in an offside position and touching it as it was going in, costing the team two precious points.

It's not a huge sample, but in Watanabe's 238 minutes spread across ten games as an Ardija player, the team has scored one time: a consolation goal in the 4-1 blowout suffered versus Shimizu S-Pulse. Yet he was the choice to come off the bench in games against Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Marinos and Avispa Fukuoka, when in each instance Omiya needed a goal either to tie or take the lead. In contrast Jun Kanakubo hit the winning goal against Jubilo Iwata, played well out of position in training matches and scored the type of goals that Watanabe is wholly incapable of dispatching into the net. His reward? Thirteen minutes against Fukuoka.

I do think that coach Jun Suzuki should go with players he's comfortable with. However, this is a results-oriented business and if you can't get the job done with the guys you have faith in, maybe you should examine why you're comfortable with them in the first place.

Enough with the negativity. It was a good day on Saturday and I was glad to see the people of Sendai smiling and laughing and getting on with life (something I never thought I'd say this time last year). I love Sendai and I hope they can forgive me if I still hate Vegalta.

I think this might be the Orangest! Happiest!! Footballiest!!! I've been all season! I might have to go get my fat ass up a tree!



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