Given that the JFL season has just started, what better time to make our first check-in with lower league nerd….er, expert @GifuRichy as he looks at the clubs in non-J.League represented prefectures that are looking to make the step up from the JFL & regional leagues to the promised land of the J.League.
This year the competition heats up in the JFL with company based powerhouses like Honda FC and Sony Sendai grouped up with J3 chasing teams from all over Japan. For teams like Nara Club and Vanraure Hachinohe who failed to gain J3 promotion last year, there is now the added pressure of new teams from Mie and Imabari who look like they will be anything but pushovers. The 2017 edition of JFL looks like it will be one of most tightly contested in a long time.
Both Vanraure Hachinohe and ReinMeer Aomori had contrasting fortunes last year. Vanraure, who were surprise stage winners in 2015 but denied promotion due to the lack of a stadium, were favorites for promotion last year but never fully got into top gear and finished a disappointing 7th. ReinMeer on the other hand were new to the division but put on some excellent displays and ended up finishing an encouraging 8th.
With their stadium issues resolved though, Vanraure will be favored to finish around the top. ReinMeer should be competitive again and will always be up for a fight, especially against rivals Vanraure, but still seem behind financially and fan base-wise.
Update: Vanraure have started the season superbly with 4 wins. Reinmeer have 2 wins, 1 draw & 1 loss from their first four games.
Nara Club had, quite simply, a horrendous season last year finishing 10th. This year Norihiro Satsukawa will manage the team after stints with FC Ryukyu & Samagamihara SC. They will enter the competition with less expectation on them than last year and with their loyal fan base behind them, if they can start reasonably well, could push all the way to promotion.
Update: Another horror start for Nara as they lose home and away (twice) to start the season.
Veertien Mie finished 3rd in a tough Tokai League last year but saved their best for last when they beat rivals Suzuka Unlimited in the Regional finals to gain JFL promotion. The club is riding a wave of momentum which could push them into the top half of the table. They have a chance this year to expand their steady fan base, and to test out their facilities at Yokkaichi Ryokuchi Municipal Ground for a possible push to J3.
Update: Veertien follow up a gritty away draw with their first ever JFL win, at home against Sony Sendai, followed by a 0-1 away loss to Vanraura Hachinohe. Last Sunday, they put an exclamation point on their welcome to the JFL by putting six past FC Osaka in a 6-3 win.
MIO Biwako Shiga, who finished 9th last year, don’t look to have put in enough work off the field to put in any serious a push for promotion. While their field in Higashi-Omi has been deemed J3 worthy, a rumored merge with local club Lagend Shiga has failed to materialize, and the team looks like it will live in mediocrity again in 2017.
Update: MIO off to a reasonable start with home and away wins and 1 away loss, although in their fourth outing of the year they suffered a 0-3 loss at home to Sony Sendai