Your friendly guide to the regional leagues in Japan is back, and @GifuRichy gives us an early season primer as to the runners & riders in the race to the J.League.
Chasing the J – Regions 2017
With the JFA announcing that J3 would probably “be full” in the next couple of years and promotion/relegation a possibility, teams from the regions around Japan will be feeling some urgency to get themselves promoted to the JFL and subsequently J3, before the going gets tougher. With the promotion to the JFL for Veertien Mie last year, this leaves just four prefectures not represented anywhere between the JFL and J1.
Saurcos had a terrible year in 2016, being pipped at the post by the unfancied Artista Toubu in the Hokushinetsu League, and missing out on any chance of JFL promotion. This year they will be coached by Kazuhito Mochizuki, who won a 1st Stage JFL Title with Vanraure Hachinohe in 2015, and will be favored to finish near the top again. One thing that could hinder their progress though, is the fact that their home ground fortress “TechnoPort” can’t be used for the season as it is being prepped for the National “Kokutai” Sports Event in 2018.
Arterivo Wakayama won the Kansai League last year but started losing momentum towards the end of the season and this drop in form continued to the Regional Champions League (RCL) where they were knocked out in the first round. They will again be coached by Yosuke Sakamoto, who has guided them to the top of the Kansai League in the last two years, but questions still remain as to whether he can take them that step further.
While Dezolla Shimane were out of the running for most of the season, Matsue City looked to be in good shape to make the Regional Champions League (RCL) last year but were knocked off the top by SRC Hiroshima to agonizingly come up short. This year, the competition in the Chugoku League looks tough with SRC Hiroshima, Mitsubishi Mizushima, Matsue City and Dezolla Shimane all in with a shot. Matsue City have tried to bring some cash into the club by charging ¥1000 for entry to home games (virtually unheard of at regional level) and ¥3000 to enter their fan club (as of 2017), but whether this will bear fruit immediately is yet to be seen.
Kochi United will be buoyed by the fact that last year’s main rival Imabari FC were promoted to the JFL meaning that they have a much more straightforward chance of becoming the champions of the Shikoku League. 2016 Head Coach, Takefumi Otani – who had a playing career in Mexico, El Salvador and Croatia – has been promoted to Manager. The club has retained most of the squad from last year and will be favored to make the RCL this year.
Although Miyazaki do have representation in the JFL with Honda Lock, the company based side has stated that it has no intention of getting promoted to J3. This leaves last years Kyushu champion – J.FC Miyazaki, and the team that has made a bit of noise on social media – Tegevejaro Miyazaki, to battle it out and represent the prefecture at a higher level.
J.FC Miyazaki surprised most with a competitive performance in the “pool of death” at the RCL last year. They showed that Miyazaki does have the ability to reach higher places and challenge for promotion over much more fancied opponents. For the 2017 season they have brought on board manager George Yonashiro who has had success in getting FC Ryukyu and Giravanz Kitakyushu promoted to the JFL in the past.
Not to be outdone, Tegevejaro sent shockwaves through Twitter when it was announced that 2016 Montedio Yamagata Manager Nobuhiro Ishizaki would be managing the squad in 2017. Ishizaki promptly signed ex-Oita Trinita legend Yasuhito Morishima, and Keiji Takachi from FC Gifu, two players who should prove invaluable at this level. The club also changed it’s team colour from red to white – Miyazaki Prefecture`s unofficial colour.
Both clubs know that realistically there`s only enough room for one professional club in Miyazaki and it looks like all the action will be on in the southern island of Kyushu in 2017.