The Market Report – 2022, J3 League

J3 is ready to come back. And this time, it brings with its beginning the highest numbers of independent clubs, since U-23 already contributed to a good number of teams in the past. But in 2022, 18 teams will square off to fight for the Top 2 spots and earn the promotion to J2. And while this happens, other promotions from JFL might push the league into considering relegations from J3 for the first time ever.

It’s a new start, and the same could be applied to some players, who took their chance on a new adventure in the third tier. To take another step, to reboot their profiles, or simply to have a good time after some dire seasons. And we must admit we’ve left many out of our pre-seasonal Top 10. “The Market Report” is back for 2022.

Some of the names excluded are of certain relevance:

  • Matsumoto Yamaga lacked all throughout 2021 a real keeper, although Kakoi had a decent impact. At the J3 level and after a dreadful year in Yamagata, Víctor will surely look for redemption in a powerhouse like Yamaga.
  • FC Gifu heavily splashed the market, and you’ll find two of their acquisitions in the Top 10, but Charles Nduka was left out for one main reason: will he be able to overcome the “second year-syndrome”? And probably there are bigger chips to play at the promotion table.
  • Kenta Hirose has been the captain of a historically solid defense like Nagano, but Parceiro are undergoing a revolution and it was time to move on. Surely, Kagoshima United FC will value his J3 experience.
  • Ryuha Ohata was one of the key members at Tegevajaro, but he left Miyazaki to join Toyama, and Kataller will see their promotion chances boosted by such an acquisition.
  • Finally, Jun Arima not only scored the “Goal of the year” according to our readers, but he’s ready to take another crack at the third division away from Imabari. The quiet atmosphere of Hachinohe could be a fresh start.

But let’s go through the Top 10 transfers we’ve found from this Winter.

10. Yuji Kimura | Mito HollyHock » Kagoshima United FC

If Arthur Papas was still around, he would have loved this add to Kagoshima’s roster. Kimura stayed for a whole decade by Kawasaki Frontale, growing within their youth ranks for five years and retaining a spot within the club for another five, although he played just 19 games in total. After that initial stint, the midfielder – class ’87 – found his way in J2. He played in the second division for all his career but one season since 2011.

An expert and crafty master of the midfield, Kimura found his home in Kitakyushu, in Tokushima, and at Mito, while also having a couple of more experience in the Kyushu Island (with Oita Trinita and Roasso Kumamoto). After 300 games in J2, it’s time to complete the ride in the southern part of Japan with another experience, this time in Kagoshima and with a squad in dire need of a “regista”.

09. Takuma Sonoda | Kagoshima United FC » Tegevajaro Miyazaki

For someone coming to Kagoshima, others left. No worries: they’re still in Kyushu, but after the pieces lost this Winter, Tegevajaro clearly needed some fresh faces. They got some – for example, former national team member Masato Kudo signed for them! –, but they were craving for an expert J3 striker. And they found one in Takuma Sonoda, ready to leave Kagoshima for good.

Sonoda scored almost 30 goals in J3, he was a star in Numazu, before the fit into Ricardo Rodríguez system didn’t work out in Tokushima. The move to Kagoshima didn’t produce either the expected results, so here we are again: Sonoda will have to fight a spot – Kitamura, Kudo, rookie Takahashi, sophomore Hashimoto, and Sota Sato will all try to book a slot up front –, but he’s the experience to prevail.

08. Kei Oshiro | YSCC Yokohama (on loan from Urawa Red Diamonds) » Ehime FC

Theoretically, he signed from Urawa Red Diamonds, but Oshiro has been active in J3 for the last two seasons. First a loan to Tottori, where Gainare didn’t let him play that much; then another try, this time in Yokohama, where he became a surprise card for Yuki Stalph to play through the season.

It was hard imagining him to stay with YSCC, but it’s bizarre as well to see him leap only to Ehime, who are surely going to face a transitional season, re-adjusting to J3 and ready to fight for regional supremacy against FC Imabari. Nevertheless, the club needed new faces for the return to the third tier and that’s a good start.

07. Yuma Funabashi | YSCC Yokohama » Nagano Parceiro

About players leaving Yokohama after their best season-ever, Funabashi is another one of those. He joined Parceiro to reunite with coach Yuki Stalph, who needs as many interpreters as possible to implement his brand of football. Class ’97, Funabashi is among the talents who emerged under the German-Japanese head coach, rising as a stable technical presence on the flanks.

That seems the kind of profile Parceiro are missing: a full-back, who can also play as a wing-back and create offensive volume and chances for his teammates (in fact, he scored twice and assisted three goals in 2021). Funabashi can theoretically play three roles – center-back in a three-CBs set-up, full-back, and wing-back. If used properly, he could be already a nice improvement for Nagano.

06. Kosuke Fujioka | Tegevajaro Miyazaki » FC Gifu

MVP of 2021? He almost won it, although our readers awarded Kaito Umeda with that title. Nevertheless, Fujioka was the perfect fit for Miyazaki. He featured mostly as second striker, matching either Umeda or Hashimoto (Mizunaga wasn’t a starting option), scoring 10 goals and resulting in the main creator for Tegevajaro. It’s been a long road from 2013 when Fujioka was signed by Fagiano.

In his first years, Fujioka never featured in J2 and played only for the reserves team, taking some spotlight in JFL. He joined Miyazaki in 2017 and he climbed the ladder with the club from the Kyushu Soccer League to almost winning J3. Now he’s taking Kawanishi’s role, who generated as much offensive volume as possible, whether if it was goals or assists. It’s another leap waiting for him.

05. Takayuki Funayama | JEF United Chiba » SC Sagamihara

We didn’t expect this move. Funayama scored eight goals in 2021 and he looked on his way to reach the 100 goals-mark with JEF (he stops, for now, at 96). Honestly, his matching with either Saldanha or Sakuragawa appeared solid. Instead, he opted to come back to the third tier after 11 years. Nevertheless, he might reach that scoring objective in J2 anyway in 2022.

Funayama is a J3 luxury and the last time he played in the third division J3 wasn’t even around yet: in fact, his four years-stint in the third division ended in 2011, when Yamaga won a promotion from JFL. He can be a factor and score 10-15 goals for a side who desperately needed solid strikers upfront, creating a nice pair with either Yuri, Fujinuma or Ando (no, they’re not gonna miss Shu Hiramatsu).

04. Yosuke Kamigata | Vanraure Hachinohe » Giravanz Kitakyushu

Speaking of clubs in need of goal scorers, Kitakyushu were terrible last season. Ryo Sato, Zen Cardona and Takamitsu Tomiyama put together 11 goals. Daigo Takahashi is gone after three wonderful years, so Giravanz clearly needed something else. Their relegation doesn’t come “just” to offensive flaws, but they surely played a part in how 2021 turned out to be after a massive 2020 showing.

Kamigata also needed a fresh start: he scored six more goals in 2021 (reaching 33 goals in J3), but he wasn’t anymore the no. 1 option as a no. 9 for Vanraure. He’s almost 30 years old, he can still provide double digits of goals at this level. If Yuya Takazawa looks a steal – even on loan – at this level, Kamigata can provide either goal from the bench or being the right match for Takazawa on the pitch and gather Giravanz some points.

03. Ryo Watanabe | Tegevajaro Miyazaki » Vanraure Hachinohe

Hachinohe made some interesting moves. Not just Arima, or Koichi Miyao, or even Naoyuki Yamada. In fact, Ryo Watanabe – not the scorching striker from Azul Claro Numazu, but the skilled winger from Tegevajaro Miyazaki – is a cracker ready to explode. A factor in the making, who started as a warm bencher in 2019, while playing in JFL, and who then became one of the best players in J3 just two years later.

He was good in JFL, he was even better in J3 and we expected him to jump on the next level, by maybe joining a lower-table club in J2. Instead, he’s going to play for Vanraure, in a team which witnessed already the rise of another interesting winger (Tsubasa Ando). It could be the right step to nurture his skills for one more year and then look for a leap towards a superior level.

02. Yoshihiro Shoji | Kyoto Sanga » FC Gifu

This isn’t just a solid signing. It’s also a romantic move that an environment like Gifu needed after two dull seasons in J3. Shoji was the centerpiece of the Oki’s orchestra when Furuhashi, Tanaka, Sisinio, and Omoto were still around. A fierce competitor with Machida Zelvia at the beginning of his career, a solid piece for Yamaguchi when Renofa climbed from JFL to the second tier.

And in those J2 times, also Shoji was thriving. Then the move to Vegalta fell apart and he never really repeated himself in Kyoto. This deal is massive for everyone involved: Shoji can go back to “glory days” mode, while Gifu – who certainly took in several interesting players and former stars – need a demiurge in the midfield, capable of orchestrating the whole system. Who better than Shoji?

01. Shota Kawanishi | FC Gifu » Kataller Toyama

Well, if FC Gifu did so well on the transfer market, why the writer behind this piece didn’t put them in the Top 2? Well, because they lost their main offensive threat and the center of their offense. Shota Kawanishi won our awards as “Best Wish” in 2020, “Best Signing” in 2021, and won the Golden Boot in J3 (becoming the oldest player to do so: previously, Noriaki Fujimoto was “just” 28 when he did with Kagoshima in 2017).

Kawanishi isn’t getting any younger (he turns 34 in 2022), but he scored 23 goals in two years. He’s one of the few elements within Kataller with a major experience. And last but not least, Toyama needed exactly a J3 star to make a case for their promotion. Someone who could snatch a goal and transform that into three points from time to time, which is exactly what Kawanishi did in Gifu throughout 2020 and 2021.

That’s the first article of our pre-seasonal coverage for J3 League in 2022! And remember, if more articles will come in these days, you can always recover “The Market Report” for J1 (here) and J2 (here), which we published throughout February. See you soon!

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