Yokohama, a beautiful port city just to the south west of Tokyo, has a team in each of Japan’s three professional leagues. We’ll start our preview in J1, at a club where not all seems well…..
- Yokohama F.Marinos
- Stadium: Nissan Stadium
- Last year: 10th in J1
What to expect in 2017: A mixed bag. A winter of discontent saw club icon Shunsuke Nakamura leave to link up with Hiroshi Nanami at Jubilo Iwata, and upon his leaving left a thinly disguised jab at the owners/board at the club for the continuing uncertainty there. Nakamura wasn’t the only high profile name to leave F.Marinos (although he was undoubtedly the biggest): Yuzo Kobayashi (Sagan Tosu), Shingo Hyodo (Sapporo), Fabio (Gamba Osaka), Kayke (Santos) & Tetsuya Enamoto (Urawa) have all left, and what they leave behind is a squad that has plenty of question marks over it.
Hugo Vieira & David Babunski have joined the club Red Star Belgrade – a club with a glorious past but that have recently been average. Domestically, Ken Matsubara from Albirex Niigata looks like a good signing. The signings of defender Ryosuke Yamanaka & ‘keeper Daichi Sugimoto look rather more average signings and Takahiro Ogihara (from Nagoya) hasn’t played well since the London Olympics. This team should be between 6th-10th placed in the league come the season’s end.
They can still call upon the experience of centre back Yuji “Bomber”Nakazawa and Yuzo Kurihara at the back, and in Martinus have a player of genuine pace that might be able to stretch teams. Kosuke Nakamachi established himself at the heart of the midfield, having easily his best season for Yokohama, and Cayman Togashi will hopefully take the next step on his career progression – he scored five times last year and showed glimpses of potential. One would think that he needs a prolonged run in the team to work up a relationship with the mercurial Manabu Saito & Martinus. There are some good young players there at Nissan Stadium, but whether they’ll be given the chance to show how good they are is a question mark under manager Erick Mombaerts.
Key Player: Manabu Saito. After his on/off will he or won’t he “transfer” saga, Saito must get back to doing what he does best: running quickly at opposition defences. He has been given the #10 vacated by Shunsuke Nakamura, but they are very different propositions as players. Saito thrives when he is given the ball with space in front of him; his trickery is difficult to stop when he is full flow. He had statistically his best season of his career in 2016 (10 goals, 8 assists, 47 chances created) playing on the wide left but given license to roam wherever he saw fit. Manager Mombaerts will sure afford his star player the same luxury this year and hope for an even better end product. The one knock on this hope is that if Saito plays to an even higher level than he did in 2016, the European vultures will come circling again and there could be a good chance that Saito might only be with F.Marinos until the midpoint of the season. That would be bad news for the Nissan Stadium faithful…..
- Yokohama FC
- Stadium: Mitsuzawa
- Last year: 8th in J2
What to expect in 2017: Probably another, mid-table (with potential for a play-off push) campaign. At the beginning of last year, I was very critical of Yokohama. They were seemingly a team with no direction, and no desire to be anything other than just another team in Yokohama. And then, after a 2-5 thumping by eventual champions Consadole Sapporo, Laajab Abdurahim was given an extended run in the side. He is more commonly known by his nickname of Iba, and Iba transformed the side from an also ran team, to one that was on the verge of making the play-offs. Iba is tough physical striker who ended up scoring 18 goals in J2 last year, and his re-signing will have done wonders for the confidence of those who make it to Mitsuzawa every other week.
YFC have been pretty impressive in the winter transfer market, which is very unlike them. In defence they have brought in Calvin Jong-a-Pin (Machida), Masaki Watanabe (Kofu) & experienced defender Takanobu Komiyama (Kawasaki). The loss of promising young goalkeeper Tsubasa Shibuya to Nagoya Grampus is offset somewhat by the retention of the reliable Yuta Minami. In midfield, Korean midfielder Jeong Chung Geun is an interesting addition, coming as he has from Nantes in France. Up front, of course no preview of Yokohama FC would be complete without mention of Kazuyoshi Miura, or simple King Kazu to his millions of adoring fans, still playing at the pro level. He will turn 50 during the season…..a fifty year old playing in the professional league. Think about that. We can mock all we like (and his place in the squad raises some questions about the policy & direction of the club) but he takes himself away to Guam every winter and puts himself through a gruelling training regime to get himself prepared for the rigours of a long J.League season, and that, I think, is something to be admired.
Key player: Calvin Jon-a-Pin. I know Ibba was the main man last year, but this signing of Jong-a-Pin came quite out of the blue and could be an inspired one. The major caveat to this statement is that he has to stay fit & healthy, which he managed to do to a relative extent last at Machida Zelvia. On his day, he is a commanding presence in the centre of defence, and is able to provide a sturdy block to build upon. He is relatively quick for a centre back, but his susceptibility to soft tissue injuries give this signing a much bigger risk factor than it might otherwise be. If it pays off he, along with Shogo Nishikawa, could be a very good centre back pairing.
- Stadium: Mitsuzawa
- Last year: 16th in J3
What to expect in 2017: Not a lot. The Yokohama Soccer & Culture Club (to give them their full title) were pretty abject last year. They won just five of their thirty league games, scoring just fifteen goals in the process. The debate for whether they should have even been granted a J.League licence is for another day, but they haven’t really done anything to a) suggest that they belong in the professional ranks & b) prove that they are a marketing entity in Yokohama itself ( a lot of this is to do with the fact that they are a community club / NPO and so they have extra funding issues on top the usual ones football clubs have).
But….on the pitch, they have serious issues as well. Goals being the main one as top scorer Masao Tsuji, who missed nearly 75% of the season through injury, scored a measly three goals. How do they remedy that? I’m not sure, because I have to admit I don’t know anything about the players they have brought in this winter. Their website tells me they’ve signed twelve new players, but as most of them are either from university or the amateur ranks, I can’t pass judgement on them. But I can be fairly confident in assuming is that it is going to be another struggle for YSCC in 2017.
Key player: Kosuke Matsuda. The defender/striker has been with YSCC since their acceptance to the J.League, and they will once again look to him for leadership.