The final part of our J.League regional odyssey brings us to the far south of Japan, to clubs in the lower reaches of the league looking clamber up the footballing ladder.
- Oita Trinita
- Stadium: Oita Bank Dome
- Last year: J3 champions
What to expect in 2017: An effort to re-establish themselves at this level. Last year, Trinita peaked late to snatch the J3 title from under the noses of Tochigi SC and thus earn promotion back to J2 at the first time of asking.
This year they’ve made what look on the surface some pretty good signings. Koki Kotegawa returns to the club after a four year stint at Kyushu neighbours Giravanz Kitakyushu and a couple of midfielders have arrived on loan – Jun Suzuki from Fukuoka and Ryosuke Maeda from Vissel Kobe.
At the back, Oita will probably once again look to the combination of Naoya Fukumori & Yoshinori Suzuki to keep them steady, and they have a new goalkeeper in Shun Takagi, who was the back up at Kawasaki Frontale last year. The last time Oita were in J2 their defence was atrocious, so hopefully (for them) they’ve learned their lesson and they will be a bit more solid this time around.
Key player: Kazushi Mitsuhira. The experienced forward will likely play with either fellow forward Yusuke Goto or attacking midfielder Takumi Kiyomoto, and it will be his guile & knowledge that will be key for Oita. He will have to hold the ball up, occupy defenders and give his midfield and defence time to join attacks. In limited run last year he still hit double figures, and if he can do the same this year (despite it being more of a step up) then that will go a long way to seeing Oita safely in mid-table (or more…….).
- Roasso Kumamoto
- Last year:
What to expect in 2017: Difficult to see anything other than a struggle. Last year, they started out superbly, looking like a genuinely good team. That was before the events of April 16th, when a large earthquake shook the ground beneath Kumamoto, and the aftershocks continued for weeks and months.
Roasso were forced to suspend their season while everyone in the area got back on thier feet, and while an initial shot of feel-good adrenaline powered them, they ultimately fell away alarmingly towards the end of the season. That was not really a surprise, the enormous mental effort required to pull the team back together amidst some pretty worrying scenes cannot be underestimated.
This year, they’ve lost their stand out performer from 2016 – Koki Kiyotake – after he decided to join JEF United Chiba after his loan spell from Sagan Tosu finished. His twelve goals & 57 chances created comfortably led both categories, and that kind of production is going to be a very difficult thing to adequately replace. Ryuichi Hirashige figures to be first man up, and maybe new signing from Nagoya Grampus Gustavo might figure in the plan too. With regards to creativity, Keita Sato & Minoru Suganuma will be tasked with helping replace Kiyotake’s void, while new signing from Sapporo Kasumasa Uesato will add a lot of experience in the middle. At the back, Kai Miki arrives from Machida Zelvia looking to make the right back berth his own.
Key player: Ryuichi Hirashige. He has to become the leader of this team now that Kiyotake isn’t there. He’s been in this position before and thrived when he was playing in a bad Gunma side, and Roasso are going to have to hope that he recaptures his form of three years ago, when he scored 13 league goals to help Gunma survive in the division.
- Kagoshima United
- Stadium: Kamoike Stadium
- Last year: 5th in J3
What to expect in 2017: After an excellent year last year, the club formed from the merging of the two previous Kagoshima based teams, will look to somehow go better in 2017.
It will be a tall ask, but coach Yasutoshi Miura has been around this block a few times and knows ways to get teams performing at this level. The standout signing for Kagoshima has been Toshihiro Matsushita, the highly experienced midfielder. Matsushita can play in most position across the midfield line and expect him to get plenty of playing time as he fills in as and when needed. He played sparingly last year after suffering an injury early on, and they would do well to play to his strengths which is to give him the licence to go wherever he feels he can dictate play. That has often been on the wings because his final ball is usually very good. If the final ball is good, expect 15 goal forward Noriaki Fujimoto to have another productive campaign.
At the back, expect Katsunari Mizumoto to once again be the defensive leader, ably assisted by Shinji Tominari at right back – although Tominari is another player with a high level of positional versatility.
Key player: It is hard to look past Noriaki Fujimoto.He’s a fine finisher who seems to have that knack of finding the tiniest creases in a defensive line or a crowded penalty area. He will be expected to be the focal point of Kagoshima’s attack once more in 2017. If he repeats his goal every other game ratio this year as well, Kagoshima will have a very good chance of replicating (or maybe even bettering) last year’s 5th place.
- FC Ryukyu
- Last year: 8th in J3
What to expect in 2017: A difficult time. The highly influential Keita Tanaka has gone (scorer of 22 goals in the last two seasons) and they are going to have to adopt to life without him fairly sharpish. Their winter shopping hasn’t been very inspiring, although the addition of Korean forward Kang Jun-kwan from Vonds Ichihara could prove a useful one. At Vonds he played as a central striker and a floater and showed a deft touch for through passes. They haven’t brought in anyone from another J.League club, preferring to do their team building from university students & semi-pro teams. I have a feeling that this will be the year that that particular approach catches up with the side based in Okinawa.
Key player: Yu Tomidokoro. A very stable presence for the Okinawan side, and this year he’ll have to elevate his game to another level in order to make up for the aforementioned loss of Keita Tanaka. A really versatile player, Tomidokoro usually produces his best stuff when he is centrally located and he is able to get his head up and play balls through the channels, but don’t be surprised if he is given a free role this year.