Another year, another run: 2021 has been a full season, with 38 games in J1 and a reduced version of J3, with the second tier always exciting (also thanks to the four relegations). And it’s going to be another rush for 2022, since the Qatar-based World Cup will push an early start of the season, forcing J. League to another run to the finish line.
For the third year in a row (almost building a kind of tradition), J. League Regista assigned its 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:
With Oita Trinita almost clinching the Emperor’s Cup – only to lose the final with a surprising header by Tomoaki Makino in his last play with the club –, J2 won’t feature any team in the AFC Champions League in 2022. Therefore, we can roll on with the winners!
Best Team | Júbilo Iwata (76,5%)
We thought Júbilo were going to be involved at least in the Top 6, but not to win the title. Read here why we were surprised and how their return represents an anomaly in J. League.
Flop Team | Matsumoto Yamaga (65,7%)
Who’s writing this piece fell in love with Yamaga’s passionate narrative for many reasons, but after three years and two relegations read here why Yamaga’s writings were already on the wall probably mid-season.
MVP | Lukian, Júbilo Iwata (50%)
Surely, we expected Lukian to be scouted by some J1 clubs, but he’s already left for Fukuoka, and he won’t be around for Júbilo in 2022. And that’s a shame because Lukian went through a developing process and perfectly fitted Masakazu Suzuki’s gameplan of sudden counterattacks from the back.
Arrived in 2019, Lukian was kept in J2 as most of the roster, but he found value for himself in the second tier, scoring already 10 goals in 2020. He doubled his account this season, bagging 22 in 41 matches. The real question mark hanging over him is if he can bring the same performance in J1 (where he played 13 games in 2019, scoring just once).
Best Goalkeeper | Togo Umeda, Fagiano Okayama (50%)
Are Shimizu players thriving in Okayama? Well, we had a couple this year. Hideki Ishige’s redemption journey come this far and Riyo Kawamoto’s first season with Fagiano showed some sparks, but no one matched what a S-Pulse-loanee accomplished this year in Okayama.
After seeing his spot taken by more experienced Shuichi Gonda, Togo Umeda went on loan to Fagiano to find more pitch time. He didn’t achieve that immediately, spending the first part of the season on the bench, with Junki Kanayama being picked as the starting goalie. Nevertheless, Umeda transformed the situation in the second part of the year.
He played 24 matches, conceding just 20 goals and keeping 10 clean sheets. In the end, Fagiano’s amazing run of 33 points in 18 games coincided with Umeda taking the no. 1 spot. Among keepers who featured for at least 20 matches, Umeda had the fifth-highest average in goals conceded per minute (one every 108 minutes, like Kofu’s Okanishi).
You have to wonder if S-Pulse will leave in Okayama to mature more or Gonda’s missed purchase might mean open arms in welcoming Umeda back to S-Pulse.
MIP | Tomoya Miki, JEF United Chiba (37,9%)
Slightly edging Kyoto Sanga’s Sota Kawasaki as the MIP of this season, Miki has been around since 2019, but he found his true nature only this year. The midfielder was highly considered by Yoon Jung-hwan, since Miki played just nine games in his rookie season, but that number leaped to 33 with the former Cerezo head coach. What differed in 2021? Goals. A lot of goals.
After scoring just twice in two years, Miki brought that number to 14 (from 66 shots all season long): a goal every three games, with the no. 39 playing every match JEF disputed this season. It’d be fundamental to keep him around, but JEF realistically won’t be able to do that. Furthermore, Miki played in both Shonan and Yokohama FC as a youngster: who knows…
Best Rookie | Ryoga Sato, Tokyo Verdy (39,3%)
There’s really a few things Verdy can cheer about this year. After finding a steady guide in Hideaki Nagai, the former Verdy player was let go not just because of results, but also because of internal rumors about another problem regarding managing and its intertwining relationship with power harassment (Cho Kwi-jea and Kim Myung-hwi have been already flagged at Shonan Bellmare and Sagan Tosu).
Despite the talent, Verdy lived through a mediocre season. Junki Koike has probably been the one of the two only good news from 2021. The other one came from a relatively unknown striker, who already debuted last season after joining from Meiji University: Ryoga Sato, class ’99, was an absolute revelation and a lifeline in a role where Verdy haven’t found any solid interpreter.
With Jin Hanato starting and Yoshito Okubo leaving (who didn’t score at all in 2020, BTW), Verdy couldn’t hope for something better than Sato. The young striker bagged 12 goals, scoring four braces all season long. It’s tough to tell if he’ll stick around in 2022, but he can surely be satisfied with his first pro-season.
Best Signing | Kaito Taniguchi, Roasso Kumamoto » Albirex Niigata (42,9%)
Honestly, we talked about it a lot of him last season, when Taniguchi won already this award in the 2020 edition, but in J3, when he moved from Iwate Grulla Morioka to Roasso Kumamoto. Ironically, both teams are gonna go up in 2021, but who knows if Taniguchi will still be around to face them in next year’s J2. Yes, because his progression has been unstoppable, beyond the best possible forecast.
Taniguchi didn’t just join Niigata, but he became a fundamental piece of Albirex. He was a ductile player – taking striker duties, but also as a winger, and in a different line-up (the 4-2-3-1) – and scored 13 goals, from which there’s a pure gem against Blaublitz Akita. After three years of his career with 10+ goals between J2 and J3, it might be time for J1 or even an European leap.
Best Wish | Kota Yamada, Yokohama F. Marinos » Montedio Yamagata (46,2%)
It took some time for Yamada. Despite being just 22, he debuted with Yokohama F. Marinos already in 2017. He was 18 years old, but he played in the national cups and then started appearing under Postecoglou in his first year on the dugout. He then was loaned to Grampus, but he wasn’t a fit in Ficcadenti’s system. So, he opted to join a J2 team: first one season with Mito HollyHock (which was decent), then a spectacular year in Yamagata.
Numbers speak for themselves: 42 matches, eight goals and six assists, a true treasure for Cklamovski’s revolution alongside Hikaru Nakahara. He finally seemed ready for the next step: we might have some doubts about his chances of staying in J2, since Marinos might lose Maeda and Yamada will be surely helpful to expand the depth of the bench in a season where Yokohama will be involved in ACL duties as well.
Best Foreign Player | Lukian, Júbilo Iwata (50%)
Caio César and Peter Utaka were the challengers in this category, and we think they both had a case in taking the headlines for themselves. Nevertheless, Lukian’s top-scoring title and the impact he had on Júbilo Iwata’s fortunes counted more than any possible argument. As we said above, it’ll be curious to see if he’s gonna mount that challenge as well with J1-quality defenders and within Avispa’s system.
Best Goal | Yoshiki Torikai, Ventforet Kofu-Montedio Yamagata (MD32, 45,8%)
2021 has offered a lot in terms of prayers launched from the halfway line, but Torikai surely improvised the best in a moment where Kofu needed wins to hope for a Top 2 slot and Yamagata seemed unstoppable.
Best Manager | Akira Ito, Ventforet Kofu (48,3%)
Speaking of Ventforet Kofu! He might be on his way to coach Júbilo Iwata in 2022, but no one will take away from Akira Ito what he’s built with Kofu in these three years. The results already speak for themselves: after a tough relegation in 2017 and a purgatory year in 2018, Kofu came fifth in 2019, fourth last year, and third in 2021. And this happened despite Ventforet got robbed from their best players.
In fact, Ito’s masterfulness is in developing players. Look at the careers of young kids like Torikai, Hasegawa, Sekiguchi, and Miyazaki or at the re-blossomed trajectories of Notsuda (now the Xabi Alonso of Yamanashi), Arai, Mendes, and Izumisawa. Anyway, we warned you: in the pre-season, we spent a few minutes incensing his work with Ventforet (read here), but he got beyond the brightest of forecasts.
As the end credits roll, we want to thank everyone involved in these Regista Awards, which we hope to see coming back in 2022. You can still enjoy the resume about J1 League and J3 League: thank you all and enjoy the brief break. It’ll be another run to the finish line next year…