This year sees the return of Machida Zelvia to J2 after the Kanto-based club triumphed in the J2/J3 relegation play-off against Oita Trinita. So what does this year have in store for Naoki Soma’s merry bunch of men? I asked Zelvia supporter @FortressNozuta to give us the lowdown on what to expect.

JLR: So, back in J2 after a three year hiatus. Excited?

FN: YES!!! Being relegated at the end of 2012 was heartbreaking and never in my worst nightmares did I think we would end up staying three years in the third division. It will be good to be back and, personally, I’m looking forward to traveling to new places, visiting new stadia, and drinking local beers.

JLR: You came back up after winning the J2/J3 play-off against Oita Trinita. What do you think Zelvia need to improve upon in order to not to drop straight back down?

FN: I think the team that won us promotion to J2 is good enough as it is to keep us there this time. You have to remember that the last time we were promoted it was because the J.League wanted to expand the division and not on our own merit. In fact, we had finished that season in third position, which is not enough for even a place in the playoffs these days. We have retained key players such as Koji and Takafumi Suzuki, Ri Han Jae, and Kota Morimura, and brought in seven more, all of whom have experience at J2 or above. In particular, I’m looking forward to seeing Yuki Nakashima, who was brought over from Montedio Yamagata, and Tatsuya Yazawa, who joins us on loan from JEF United Chiba. If rumors about Calvin Jong-a-Pin turn out to be true, then he should be a good addition to the team providing he can avoid injury.

On the other hand, I’m concerned about manager Naoki Soma’s lack of flexibility regarding tactics. He rigidly sticks to the same formation regardless of who the opponent is and is slow to react to what is happening on the field. While biding time to see what will happen might work in J3, where most of our opponents were not as skilled or fit as us, waiting for the other team to tire or make a mistake won’t cut the mustard in J2. Soma needs to be less cautious about making changes.

JLR: In the recent past, teams coming up from J3/JFL have often done pretty well – think Matsumoto, Nagasaki, Kanazawa. Looking upon Zelvia with your glass half full, what are the prospects of your team performing similarly to those mentioned previously?

FN: Unlike Matsumoto, I don’t think we’ll make it as far as J1 in the first couple of years but I don’t think we’ll be facing relegation playoffs, as Kamatamare Sanuki did in their first season, either. I can see us settling down somewhere mid table. We have a tough opening game against Cerezo Osaka, who are being tipped for promotion this year, so supporters shouldn’t get their hopes up too high about that one, but generally I think we have a good season ahead of us. No fireworks, but no broken hearts either!

JLR: Realistically, what are you expecting from Machida Zelvia this year? A year long relegation slog, or comfortably adapting to life back in J2?

FN: I’m expecting Zelvia to forge a new life in J2 and not even have to think once let alone twice about J3. I think the season will be exciting for us but at no point do I believe we will be in contention for the championship or playoffs. To be honest, I’m looking forward to a reduction in my stress levels.

I’ve been supporting the team since 2010 and every season has seen either a battle for promotion or against relegation. I don’t know if I can take any more! Having said that, if we do happen to be in with a chance of promotion to J1… bring it on!

  • You can keep up to date with the ups & downs of Machida Zelvia’s J2 ride with the frankly excellent Fortress Nozuta blog.