2020 has been an exhausting season, but we think especially J3 League will enjoy a deserved break in the Winter: unlike J2 and J1, there wasn’t a first matchday played in March, because football was postponed before the third division could even put a ball onto a pitch. So they had to wait until June to start and from there it was hectic: we’ve seen the rise of a extraordinary team, but also many surprises.
In such a long year, where young and unknown players came forward, we did what we liked the most in this period of the year, although after a tiring season: it’s time to take a breath – more than ever! – and make our calls in terms of awards. To do that, we summed up a small panel to pick the possible options, then saw the votes coming through polls by our readers and followers:
After the last matchday of the season – which gifted us drama, as you would expect from J3 –, we’re ready to see the winners.
Best team | Blaublitz Akita (90%)
Blaublitz Akita had an otherworldly run of results, but the spell might go on in J2 as well thanks to some key-members of the organization. Read here about their magic season.
Flop Team | Kamatamare Sanuki (60,9%)
It’s a back-to-back award for the side from the Kagawa Prefecture. If last year though the disappointment was tangible to have slipped so low from J2 to J3, this year something diverse happened. Probably many of the voters expected (and maybe hoped) to see Kamatamare bouncing back from a terrible 2019. Instead, nothing changed that much and the club closed sixteenth on the table in 2020.
It seems pretty clear that the glory days under Makoto Kitano are so far away in the memories of the fans and not even a new coach worked out. In fact, Kazuhito Mochizuki has been already released before the end of the season, with the announcement coming in the last weeks.
What now? Some youngsters have gained more experience, the senators are leaving – among them, one above others: goalkeeper Kenta Shimizu is retiring – and you hope some of the 2021 players will be able to step up and help the club. Last but not least, the choice of a new manager will be crucial to understand which future lies ahead for the club.
MVP and Best Goalkeeper | Yudai Tanaka, Blaublitz Akita (52,6% / 61,9%)
We honestly thought to see Tanaka in this article, but we would never have expected to mention him twice. The “Best Goalkeeper” award seemed pretty locked for him, given his performances and despite Víctor Ibáñez from SC Sagamihara challenged him massively. In the “MVP” category, we envisioned Nao Eguchi as a possible winner, but we guess that the rock-solid defensive performances by Akita helped Tanaka grabbing the award.
It’s incredible to see how much progress the class ’95 has done in this year. The defensive system of Akita was rock-solid and it surely helped to boost his performances and numbers in this 2020, but Tanaka grabbed as well the MVP Award in J3 for June-July, proving he was no fluke in defending the goal of his new club. J2 League has always been a nice place to spot reliable keepers and we’re curious to see if Tanaka will make it there as well.
MIP | Origbaajo Ismaila, Fukushima United FC (40,9%)
When he signed for Fukushima last year, Ismaila didn’t look like someone who could have turned the ship around soon. FUFC had Hayate Take in their ranks, who confirmed to be a top striker for J3 even in his third season as a pro. Little detail: he didn’t stay last Winter, jumping ship to Toyama in the hope of getting promoted. Kataller didn’t make it, despite Take’s best efforts.
Meanwhile, Fukushima had another decent season, developing some players, especially in the offensive department. Captain Ryosuke Tamura has become a solid member of the team, while the loan of Ömer Tokaç from Shonan Bellmare might be a resource to exploit even in 2021. But the growth of Ismaila was clear and bright, on the same route of what happened for Michael Olunga and Peter Utaka in other divisions.
It seems that African center-forwards can really thrive in Japan. The Nigerian striker scored 13 goals, he came fourth in the top-scorers chart and will probably improve again. We don’t see him staying in Fukushima and some J3 top club could try to snatch him (Gifu could be a solution, but also Imabari could work). We have to wait the Winter to understand how his third year in Japan will look like (he’s just 22 years old).
Best rookie | Yuya Taguchi, Gainare Tottori (47,4%)
It wasn’t easy to choose this year, because many rookies stepped up to shine in 2020. Hiroyuki Tsubokawa from Nagano Parceiro and Toshiki Takahashi from Roasso Kumamoto were good rivals, but Yuya Taguchi proved himself to be an interesting profile for the future. It’s not even the first time that Gainare Tottori seem to have a nose for this kind of talents.
A class 2001 from Mie Prefecture, Taguchi has become the starter at the center-forward after manager Riki Takagi has probably understood that the “Joanderson heist” didn’t work as planned. The Brazilian no. 9 – another attempt of replicating the Leonardo-operation from 2018 – scored just once, while Taguchi debuted with a goal in his first pro-game ever, being the decider in a match against Cerezo Osaka U-23 in June.
Taguchi is an atypical striker, but that’s what is interesting about his profile. He’s 19 years old and he could become some many different types of player: an affordable attacker, a good no. 9 or even a second striker capable of playing with a target man. In a roster where no one went in double digits of goals, having a player like Taguchi helped covering some ground compared to other clubs who have a decent no. 9.
Best Signing | Kaito Taniguchi, from Iwate Grulla Morioka to Roasso Kumamoto (42,1%)
At this third year in J3, Kaito Taniguchi has developed again and proved to be a reliable player. Time for a promotion? Read here.
Best Wish | Shota Kawanishi, from Oita Trinita to FC Gifu (50%)
One of the classiest players in all the three divisions, Kawanishi was one of the few positive notes from last year’s campaign of FC Gifu, which ended up with a relegation after 12 consecutive seasons in J2. It’s clear how the goal was to bounce immediately back to the second division, but the faulty guide of Zdravko Zemunović and some bad strings of results erased the idea of a quick return to the second division.
The change on the bench slightly helped – Kenji Nakada got 28 points in 18 games –, but it wasn’t enough to have the best of Nagano Parceiro and SC Sagamihara. Furthermore, the firepower on the offensive side didn’t exactly show up as promised and the youngsters have developed, but not as much to get a promotion to J2. But it was different for Shota Kawanishi, who indeed proved to be crucial for Gifu.
We don’t see him coming back to Oita Trinita, so probably everyone is hoping for him to stay at Gifu, retaining his no. 10 jersey and trying again next year. 2021 could represent a better chance for the club to leap back to J2: the contenders will only be three or four and we expect Gifu to be among them. Especially if they’ll be able to purchase Shota from Oita once it for all.
Best goal | Ryota Nakamura, Blaublitz Akita v. Kamatamare Sanuki, Matchday 25 (50%)
It was a tight battle with the winning-rainbow produced by Hayato Asakawa to clinch a win in Fujieda for Roasso in Matchday 16, but apparently the voters preferred a goal already in crunch time. But look no further: Ryota Nakamura produced an absolute gem and confirmed himself to be a reliable J3 striker, especially under the guide of his old manager, Ken Yoshida.
Nakamura didn’t let down his former manager, producing another year with double digits of goals and being the top scorer for Akita. He represented a useful card to pick in certain moments, like the winner in Osaka against Cerezo Osaka U-23 in injury time or the second still in Osaka to clinch the title against Gamba U-23. If he’ll be able to repeat these performances in J2, he will be an asset for the maiden campaign in J2.
Best manager | Ken Yoshida, Blaublitz Akita (80%)
It was a landslide, just like the 2020 season by Blaublitz. Yoshida had a solid experience both in JFL and J3, given how further he pushed Azul Claro Numazu with his expertise. He was the right pick to succeed Mase and he delivered, big time. There are managers who went through developments and transformations through promotions: just think about what it meant winning J3 for Tomohiro Katanosaka in 2016 with Oita, both for his career and Trinita.
Yoshida has to take this moment and use it as a formative process, which will see the next step in J2. But beware of him, because the 2020 season isn’t over: as J3 champions, they’re one match away from facing Kawasaki Frontale in a few days. We don’t think there will be an upset, but the club still granted themselves an ACL license. You know, just in case they haven’t run out of miracles for this 2020…
Thank all our panelists for featuring here, we can’t wait to see them again in action for 2021. Just like J3 League, which will feature only 15 teams, but it’ll welcome a new team in Tegevajaro Miyazaki. See you for J1 and J2 awards!