Enough of this Golden Week frivolity, there’s misery to be shared. And when it comes to sharing J.League misery, @AgentOrange2009 is the most generous man around…..
2 rounds ago, it appeared as though the Mighty Bellmartians of Shonan were done and dusted. Even though they managed to not allow 2 goals in a league match for the first time all season, they still crashed to a 1-0 loss against the 2015 J2 supersquad, MY OMIYAAAAAAAAAAAA ARDIJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! 8 rounds in to the season and Shonan had only managed 2 points going into the Golden Week stretch.
What a difference 2 matches make.
Believe it or not, Shonan are on the verge of getting out of the bottom 3. Back to back 1-0 wins against an erratic Yokohama side and a very disappointing Sagan Tosu squad. I think a lot of the credit should go to manager Cho Kwi Jae, who has seen the team hemorrhage talent since the close of last season. Going into Wednesday’s match, both of Shonan’s opening day starters in the holding midfielder position were out with injury. The back line has also been a work in progress, with former Urawa teammates swapping places. Disappointing rental Takuya Okamoto has been dropped for the very veteran Keisuke Tsuboi. The move has paid off in defense, with Shonan yielding a lone PK goal in Tsuboi’s last 4 starts. With the insertion of Tsuboi, Shonan has seemed to change the style of their game from full throttled attack to a more “Kofu” style of play.
I’d argue that Shonan caught a bit of luck in terms of scheduling when they got Yokohama first during Golden Week. In many ways, Yokohama was the perfect foil to get them on track.
First, Shonan had a handful of players who were deemed “non-essential” to the plans of Erick Mombaerts and the Nissan/Emirates mishmash of corporate footballing skullduggery and front office voodoo that happens in Yokohama. Motivated players who know the opponents system and feel a bit slighted are always dangerous and this was no different.
Yokohama also tends to play up or down to the level of their opponents. They’ve managed to balance wins against Gamba and Jubilo and a draw against league leaders Urawa with disappointing results against Vegalta (loss), Avispa (draw), and Shonan. When Yokohama had their most dangerous chance bounce the wrong wrong way off the post and harmlessly fall into the arms of goalkeeper Tomohiko Murayama, you could sense that Yokohama was starting to doubt that it was their night. When Kaoru Takayama broke free from Yuji Nakazawa and slotted in a nice shot for the 1-0 lead, you could feel the panic set in. And when a struggling Kayke stepped up and tried to direct a pk attempt into the net instead of hammering it in, you knew Yokohama was finished.
Dealing with a patchwork lineup on a very short turnaround, Shonan managed to steal a 1-0 result on the road in Tosu. Shuhei Otsuki managed to step up late and notch his first goal of the season. After 2 big road wins an upcoming date with this seasons early frontrunner for excellence in underachievement, FC Tokyo await Shonan in the cozy confines of BMW Stadium. Is this just a patch of smoothness on the rocky highway to relegation hell? Maybe, but stringing together a few results does wonders for a less talented teams confidence. Beware, J League, Cho’s men aren’t dead yet.
SIX POINTER SUNDAY
17th place Vegalta Sendai, currently holders of the “Maeda Curse” face off against 18th place Avispa Fukuoka in a “Duelo De Descenso” (Bing Translator Spanish for Relegation Dogfight!). The teams come into the match on the opposite end of the confidence spectrum. Sendai recovered from a disastrous 2-0 loss to Tosu by stealing a point on the road at 2nd place Kawasaki Frontale. Sendai finds itself in the middle of relegation after a string of injuries in midfield left the team with few options. The recent return of the talismanic Ryang Yong Gi helped stabilize the center of the field and gives hope that they can get off their recent run of 6 straight winless matches.
Avispa went the opposite route, dropping a 2-1 result to an Omiya squad fielding a team with 6 usual reserve players in the starting lineup. Fukuoka fans have to be disappointed that their team couldn’t build on the momentum provided by winning their first match of the year at FC Tokyo. The good news for Avispa is that they still have a game in hand against a very beatable Nagoya Grampus, so a win on Sunday would put them in good position to drag themselves out of the bottom three.
A couple of interesting subplots in the matchup involve former teammates facing off against one another. Goalkeeper Yuji Rokutan goes up against Fukuoka for the first time in league play after departing the squad for Yokohama after relegation in 2012. Former mates Kazuki Oiwa and Kim Hyun Hun find themselves at opposite ends of the pitch after being the focal point of JEF Chiba’s center defense for two seasons. After 10 plus seasons in yellow and blue, forward Takayuki Nakahara makes his return to Yurtec after leaving the club for Fukuoka. Jun Kanakubo spent far less time in Fukuoka, but he gets a chance to extend the suffering to him former squad.
The match will probably come down to who can get going offensively. Coming into the match, the only consistent scoring threat for either squad has been Avispa’s large point man, Wellington. How Vegalta deals with Wellington will go a long way in determining their success. Sendai currently have the 3rd worst mark in terms of goals allowed so there are chances to be had for the leagues worst scoring squad. Vegalta have spread their 9 goals amongst 8 players this season so Fukuoka must be wary of multiple inconsistent threats. The loser of this match is probably in trouble, although the winner ain’t in great shape either. If it’s a draw they’re both probably screwed too.
1. To be fair- A lot has been made of the struggles of FC Tokyo and their new old manager Hiroshi Jofuku. Arguably the re-hire of the man that led them to J2 a couple years back was a head scratcher to say the least. A very odd offseason, which saw a collection of bygone superstars, journeymen barely at J1 level and surplus parts brought in to “fortify” a team who just missed out on a playoff berth has left fans wondering what is going on at Ajinomoto. Matters haven’t been helped by the twin distractions of injuries and a tough ACL campaign. Needless to say Jofuku has not been manager of the year thus far. Many critics have wondered why former manager Massimo Ficcadenti was not retained after two decent years. I don’t have an answer for that. I will say though, that judging by his early season form at Tosu, he’s been nearly as bad as Jofuku. While the talent pool is deeper at Tokyo, Ficcadenti’s cupboard isn’t completely bare. Just keep that in mind the next time somebody mentions Jofuku’s failures and Ficcadenti in the same breath. (I think Jofuku was just meant to be a placeholder until Cho Kwi Jae decides that managing a squad with no money is a complete dead end. Next year is going to see a good amount of change at Ajinomoto….unless I’m wrong).
2. Won’t get fooled again- I hate Nagoya Grampus. There, I said it. From their string of gawky oversized foreign strikers to their penchant for beating Omiya with gawky oversized foreign strikers, they’ve always just rubbed me the wrong way. Remember 2014, when they beat Omiya and didn’t beat Shimizu in the final weeks of the season? Yeah, that sucked. All these things are decent reasons to hate Nagoya (if you are me). That’s not the real reason I hate them. The real reason I hate them is because every time I think they are finally going to be a legitimate threat to finally head to the J2 abyss, they pull off a counter-intuitive win to drag themselves out of the muck. Vissel Kobe does much of the same thing but I can’t hate them because….Komoto. Nagoya? They’ve given us nothing but pain and awful memories…..mostly of gawky oversized foreign strikers falling down dramatically and earning PK’s in nefarious ways. I won’t be writing about them again…..until they string together a couple losses and me back in to the Wile E. Coyote vortex of me writing a long piece about their troubles and then smashing myself head first into a figurative brick of their inevitable clawback to boring, boring safety.
You can choke on your precious Miso Katsu, Grampus.
3. Whenever you wake up, and put on your hair and makeup- Say a little prayer for Albirex Niigata. That defense is not J1 level and a trio of matches against Gamba, Urawa, and Kawasaki are on the slate for May. Leading scorer Rafael Silva is out for 6 weeks so luck isn’t going their way either.
Happy Derby Day! And enjoy your Golden Week*
*Not you, Grampus