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Help Japan image taken from here.

As anyone reading this blog knows, there are more important things than soccer going on right now in Japan. Please help out if you can and donate to one of the charities listed below.

American Red Cross
British Red Cross

Canadian Red Cross
Doctors without Borders
Oxfam
Yahoo Japan

 

J.League has postponed all matches through the end of March, and between power rationing and severe damage sustained at some stadiums it may take longer than that before pro soccer restarts again. Unfortunately there’s just not much more to write at the moment.

 

-Dan

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Aishiteru Tokyo and On the Gas present Gas Talk Episode 2!

Met up with Ben yesterday evening at our usual izakaya to record the second episode of Gas Talk! Despite Graham's absence and unusually loud music over the house PA system, we managed to bring you another (hopefully) enjoyable episode of commentary. Here's a rundown of what you'll hear:

Part 1: a review of the team's preseason activities including reactions from Sunday's PSM at Thespa Kusatsu. Also an injury report roundup.

Part 2: this one's mostly me because Ben was admittedly unfamiliar with it, but I talk about Yuto Nagatomo's full transfer for 160 million yen and what it means for FC Tokyo and Japanese soccer as a whole. We also talk a bit about Jade North, the Australian NT player who's been participating in team practice since last week.

Part 3: a preview of this Saturday's match against Sagan Tosu. Highly suggested that you check our respective blogs on Thursday/Friday for the latest updates and a more accurate picture of what the starting eleven will be.

Apparently there are a couple technical issues w/ the audio but hopefully they won't get in the way of your listening experience. I've also been told that you can now subscribe to Gas Talk through the iTunes store, even though the podcast details are a little wonky (apparently Ben wants all the credit ;-) And we aren't doing the podcast in Japanese, at least not yet!).

Stay tuned for our next episode after the Tosu game!

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The 2011 Preseason: 8 Things We’ve Learned

With less than a week to go until the March 5th kickoff at Ajinomoto stadium, let’s review what we’ve learned in the offseason.

 

1. Injuries Still Happen

Gonda’s pinkie separation will have him out for at least 3 weeks, while several other teammates (including Ishikawa, Nakamura, Pedro Junior, Kajiyama, and others) have been suffering from the niggling types of injuries that, while they might not show up in an official injury report, can keep them mysteriously out of practice or even worse the gameday lineup. Ishikawa is still struggling and hasn’t played in any training matches yet, but hopefully his fitness will return for the regular season. With the size and depth of Tokyo’s roster, we’d all like to hope that an injury or three won’t hurt the squad too much in terms of firepower… then again we need some firepower to begin with (see below).

2. The Boys of Summer

Although Tokyo didn’t call up any U-18 members to the top squad, look for a couple of the “new generation” to start making waves. Takumi Abe has gained favor with Hiyoshi Okuma and is an inside favorite to start at left back on Saturday, while Otake will probably get in more playing time as well. Hideto Takahashi could also get into the mix when Konno is off wearing the blue kit.

3. The Boys of Subbing

Just as important as our starting 11 are our reserves; unless we learn how to score early and often (see below) Tokyo may again need to mount late-stage offensive (or comebacks, as the case often was last year). Tatsuya Suzuki is, for better or for worse, always in the mix, but Tatsuya Yazawa and Uesato are also strong contenders to make regular appearances. Takamatsu I’m hesitant to pass judgment on because it appears as though even Okuma isn’t 100% sure who his starting forwards will be.

4. The Boys of Samba

For the first time in several years, FC Tokyo could have three Brazilians on the field. Cesar has impressed in the preseason with several goals and assists and has generally performed like the player we all hoped Ricardinho would be last year… I would even put him up there as a candidate for our top scorer. Roberto has been solid at volante and could earn a regular starting spot between Kajiyama’s repeated injuries and Yonemoto’s form trouble. Pedro Junior hasn’t turned quite as many heads this offseason but he should still do better than Matsushita.

5. We Got 99 Problems and Offensive Production Might Be 1

While the defense has more or less performed solidly, the same patterns that plagued Tokyo on offense – namely, an inability to score early – have once again emerged. Players are performing well individually, but the winning combination has yet to be unlocked. As an example, although the 6-2 win against Shimizu S-Pulse may sound impressive, in reality Tokyo was losing 1-2 until Shimizu put their reserves in.  One may ask what it all means, and the answer is that it’s the preseason, so precisely in that realm between jack and shit… for now. Looking at our opponents (Tosu, Gifu, Toyama, Tochigi), if our goal difference isn’t +6-7 or better by the end of March I would perhaps consider ringing that particular alarm bell.

6. Toto, I Don’t Think We’re In J1 Anymore

Yesterday’s PSM against Thespa Kusatsu at Soy Sauce Stadium came with an extra dose of MSG-induced heartburn for our traveling supporters. An out-of-the-way stadium with 10,000 seats and a track, relatively few supporters, poor pitch condition, mediocre officiating… in many ways, this was as accurate a simulation of J2 as one could have imagined. No more pristine pitches or packed stands for a while… at least maybe until the Tokyo Derby.

7. Our Front Office Is Smarter Than Your Front Office…

With last week’s announcement that Yuto Nagatomo has officially been sold to Cesena (who are on track to sell him to Inter, although apparently he’s having a bit of a struggle in dealing with their asshole supporters and players in his current loan spell), FC Tokyo managed to pull off what no team in J.League has in the last couple years: get a decent chunk of money for an international transfer. While Kagawa got shipped off to Dortmund for a bag of magic beans and a song, and Okazaki’s controversy-plagued transfer to Stuttgart was more or less free, Cesena has paid Tokyo roughly 200 million yen (nearly $2.5 million, or 1.8 million euros, or 3.4 billion Lira. Thanks Google!) for the star left back. Now, Cesena’s going to make a whole lot more if and when they eventually sell Nagatomo to a bigger club so it’s not a total victory, but it’s still a lot better than anyone else did.

8. …Except When They’re Not

While there were reports that Nagatomo’s transfer money would be used to renovate the team’s locker room and training facilities, there’s word that one more player acquisition could be on the horizon as Australian back Jade North has been participating in team practices since the other day. With the max number of A-contracts already signed to the team one wonders how Mr. North, described by some sources as solid but unimpressive, could be shoehorned onto the team… notwithstanding the fact that his signing isn’t really necessary to begin with. Memo to the front office: Just because the money’s blowing a hole in your pocket doesn’t mean you have to spend it all immediately. Perhaps you could put it in a savings account with that new bank sponsor you got, invest in some band-aids for Kajiyama’s vagina.

Speaking of money, the new SOCIO cards come with built-in EDY electronic payment chips, and according to the explanations the team actually gets some cash back every time you use them to make a purchase. I wonder how much money the team could save by paying their players w/ EDY…

 

Anyway, stay tuned for more as we ramp up coverage for the soon-to-start J2 season! I’m joining Ben and Graham from On The Gas to record the second episode of Gas Talk this evening, and hopefully it’ll be up tomorrow. お楽しみに!

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Aishiteru Tokyo & On The Gas present Gas Talk!

There's some stuff to report; Tokyo is currently in training camp in Kyushu, playing a bunch of training matches that don't really matter because they're training matches.

More importantly, I've started on yet another project! Last Thursday I joined forces with Ben and Graham from On The Gas to record the first episode of Gas Talk, the world's first (and only as far as we know) FC Tokyo-centric podcast.

In this episode, we introduce ourselves, talk a bit about Tokyo's history and their troubles in 2010, and talk quite a bit about offseason moves and tactical predictions for 2011. It was very fun to make, and I hope you guys have fun listening to it as well!

And if you'd like to save it to your hard-drive, you can use this handy direct link. We hope to be listed on iTunes and all that good stuff in the near future, but until then you can manually subscribe to the podcast using this RSS link if that's your sorta thing.

We're all still very new to this (well, at least to the idea of an FCT-centric podcast; Ben is an old hand at the whole podcasting thing!) so if you do listen, please let us know what you like and didn't!

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FCT 2011 Match Schedule released, training camp relocated

First, what we've all been waiting for, the schedule!

2011/3/5 – vs Sagan Tosu (Ajinomoto Stadium)
2011/3/12 – at Fagiano Okaya,a (kanko Stadium)
2011/3/19 – at Gifu (Gifu Memorial Center Stadium)
2011/3/27 – vs Tochigi SC (Ajinomoto)
2011/4/03 – vs Giravantz Kitakyuushuu (Ajinomoto)
2011/4/09 – at Yokohama FC (Mitzusawa)
2011/4/17 – vs Oita Trinita (Ajinomoto)
2011/4/24 – at JEF Chiba Ichihara United (Fukuda Denshi Arena)
2011/4/30 – vs Consadole Sapporo (Ajinomoto)
2011/5/4 – at Verdy (Ajinomoto – AWAY)
2011/5/8 – vs Kataller Toyama (Ajinomoto)
2011/5/14 – at Thespa Kusatsu (Shikishima)
2011/5/22 – vs Shonan Bellmare (Ajinomoto)
2011/5/28 – at Kyoto Sanga (Nishigoku)
2011/6/5 – vs Ehime FC (Komazawa Stadium)
2011/6/12 – at Roasso Kumamoto (KKWING)
2011/6/19 – vs Tokushima Vortis (Ajinomoto)
2011/6/25 – at Mito Hollyhock (K's Denshi)
2011/7/2 – vs Gainare Tottori (Ajinomoto)
2011/7/9 – at Oita Trinita (Oita Bank Dome)
2011/7/17 – vs FC Gifu (Ajinomoto)
2011/7/24 – vs Roasso Kumamoto (Kokuritsu)
2011/7/30 – at Giravantz Kitakyuushuu (Kitakyuushuu)
2011/8/13 – vs Thespa Kusatsu (Ajinomoto Stadium)
2011/8/21 – at Tochigi SC (Tochigi Green Stadium)
2011/8/28 – at Kataller Toyama (Toyama Prefectural Stadium)
2011/9/10 – vs Kyoto Sanga (Ajinomoto)
2011/9/17 – at Ehime FC (Ninjineer)
2011/9/25 – vs Yokohama FC (Kokuritsu)
2011/10/2 – at Tokushima Vortis (Pocari Sweat Stadium)
2011/10/16 – vs Fagiano Okayama (Ajinomoto)
2011/10/23 – at Sagan Tosu (Best Amenity Stadium)
2011/10/30 – vs Verdy (Ajinomoto Stadium) [note: depending on AFC Champion's League could be moved to 10/29]
2011/11/6 – at Shonan Bellmare (Hiratsuka)
2011/11/12 – vs Mito Hollyhock (Ajinomoto)
2011/11/19 – at Gainare Tottori (Bird Stadium)
2011/11/26 – vs JEF Chiba (Ajinomoto)

2011/12/3 – at Consadole Sapporo (Sapporo Dome)

Some thoughts…

-That's a lotta games. 19 will be on Sundays, 18 on Saturdays, and the first Tokyo Derbyw will be on a Wednesday (a national holiday – みどりの日. How droll.)

-Fuck you, J.League, for putting almost *all* of the away trips I was looking forward to at the VERY END OF THE SEASON. Tottiri in late November? Sapporo to end the year? And Tosu is even on Sunday! Goddammitsomuch. But at least we get Mitsuzawa for Yokohama FC, and Tochigi will make a great summer trip.

-As long as Tokyo's away support stays up in the Kanto region, there should be a period of absolute dominance by Tokyo supporters between late March and late May. 10 matches in a row (including Kusatsu which is admittedly a bit of a hike even compared to Chiba or Shonan) that Tokyo supporters can reach easily by train.

-The J.League scheduling gods are known for stacking end-of-season matches that amplify title chases. Are these last two matches a sign from above that Chiba and Sapporo are fellow contenders for promotion?

-For Tokyo to secure promotion at the second Tokyo Derby, they would have to be at least 18 points clear of 4th place after the day's matches were complete. This is far from impossible; last season Kashiwa Reysol ended Round 32 18 points up on 4th-place Chiba, who had 6 games remaining compared to Kashiwa's 5.

In other news, the team held their opening press conference the other day and revealed a new slogan that is full of fail, so much so that I'm not going to bother discussing it. The team also announced yesterday that due to the volcanic happenings in Miyazaki prefecture, February's training camp is being relocated to Kumamoto.

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Your 2011 FC Tokyo Squad

Detailed introduction in future posts, for now here's names and numbers:

Manager: Kiyoshi Okuma

1 GK Hitoshi Shiota
2 DF Ryuhei Tokunaga
3 DF Masato Morishige
4 DF Hideto Takahashi
6 MF Yasayuki Konno
7 MF Takuji Yonemoto
9 FW Roberto Cesar
10 MF Yohei Kajiyama
11 FW Tatsuya Suzuki
13 FW Sota Hirayama
14 MF Hokuto Nakamura
15 DF Daishi Hiramatsu
16 MF Roberto
17 FW Pedro Junior
18 MF Naohiro Ishikawa
19 MF Yohei Otake
20 GK Shuichi Gonda
21 GK Ryotaro Hironaga
22 MF Naotake Hanyu
26 DF Takumi Abe
27 MF Soutan Tanabe
29 DF Kazunori Yoshimoto
30 FW Taiki Takamatsu
31 GK Satoshi Tokizawa
32 MF Kazumasa Uesato
33 DF Kenta Mukuhara
34 DF Tomokazu Nagira
39 FW Tatsuya Yazawa

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The One Year Hangover

Man, what did I drink last night… oh, hello, blog!

Hey Dan. It's been a long time!

Yeah, it has, hasn't it? But it's good to be back! I had the strangest dreams… four horsemen, angels pouring out stuff from bowls, trumpets, and somewhere I've never heard of called Tottori.

Oh. Really. *cough*

Well, apparently I needed the downtime, because I guess I've been asleep for about 4 months now. And it's January! Almost time for another J1 season.

Um, about that…

I see the schedule's been released… another home opener to start the year! And it's against… Sagan Tosu?

Listen, I hate to be the one to tell you, but–

Did they get promoted? I knew Kofu and Kashiwa had it locked up… well, good for them at any rate!

No, it's not…

And week two is away at…

Will you pay attention for one seco–

…Fagiano Okayama.

…yeah.

Seriously?

…I tried to tell you…

Seriously.

…honestly, you're better off having slept through it.

That bad?

Yep.

So dumping Jofuku for Okuma didn't really do much, did it?

Well, Okuma did okay, but it wasn't him on the pitch, was it.

I suppose not. So we never recovered, did we.

Oh, we came close.

How close?

Last week of the season.

Son of a bitch. So we still could have… how bad was it?

Pretty bad.

Well, fuck.

Yep, pretty much how we felt at the time.

So that's it, huh? A year in J2?

Hopefully.

No TV broadcasts, less media coverage, minuscule away support, away games in the countryside where the trains don't run, no Nabisco Cup, and all the big teams are in J1 fighting for the title?

Well, yeah, but look at the plus side.

What plus side?

I mean, what other reason is there to go to Toyama? Or Kitakyushu? Or Tokushima? You've always wanted to see Japan, here's your chance! All those stadiums with great local food, great views, and teams you've always heard about but never saw play!

Well, that's certainly a plus.

And while J1 gets a month off, J2 just keeps on going! Plenty of soccer to get you through the year, and every game matters!

Good point.

And best of all… we get a Tokyo Derby again!

Okay, I'm convinced that maybe this won't suck as much. But isn't it going to suck not having any of our star players? Konno, Yonemoto, Ishikawa and the rest have all been sold off to J1 teams, right?

Actually, they've all stayed on.

You're shitting me.

Nope, most of Tokyo's starters are still on the books.

But we're in J2 now! How do we have the money?

Well, Murabayashi resigned, but before then he promised that we'd be back in J1 in a year, so the personnel budget was untouched. Oguro, Ricardinho, Maeda, and that Korean dude who never played are all going back to their former teams. And we did get rid of a few players…

Like who?

Shingo Akamine will be staying with Vegalta Sendai, and they're also borrowing Matsushita for a year. Kim Yong-gun got picked up by Omiya, but we did make a decent amount of money from that. Shigematsu is going on loan to Fukuoka for a year…Ryo Hiraide will spend a year in Toyama… Abe is gonna defend the posts for Shonan… Other than Kim and maybe Shigematsu, nobody we'd really miss.

So, did we manage to sign anyone?

Oh yeah, lots of players. Three Brazilians! Roberto, Roberto, and Pedro Jr.

How did we get three? We only had one last year, and we were dark horse favorites for an ACL slot!

Better late then never.

By the way you repeated yourself, you said Roberto twice.

Oh, no, there's two of them. One's 25 and a forward, the other's 31 and a volante.

Well, that's promising. Did we pick up anyone else?

Oh yeah. Midfielder Kazumasa Uesato from Sapporo on a loan… Taiki Takamatsu from Oita too. He's a good striker, will probably back up Hirayama. As far as full pickups, Tatsuya Yazawa at midfield, Tomokazu Nagira from Fukuoka on defense, and Satoshi Tokizawa from Kusatsu for a 3rd goalkeeper.

All in all, sounds like a pretty solid set of acquisitions. A year too late, perhaps…

…well, if wishes were horses Urawa would be in the Saitama Prefectural League.

…but at least we're on the way back.

That we are.

Gonna be a long year.

Yep.

Let's get started.

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Tokyo’s Struggles and The “R” Word

It’s been about a month and a half since our last update, so here’s a brief rundown of what’s been happening in Tokyo.

-We haven’t been winning, that’s for sure. Draws against Kobe, losses against Cerezo, Hiroshima, and Urawa, and eliminated from the Nabisco Cup on away goals after a 1-1 aggregate (1-1 and 0-0) with Shimizu S-Pulse. Tokyo has one win out of 11 home matches (and 7 or 8 of those have been draws).

-We haven’t been scoring, either: just one goal in the last four J1 ties, and lately our players have been hitting the post with such regularity that the makers of the official J.League goals should offer sponsorship deals.

-We’re in the 3rd round of the Emperor’s Cup, just barely, after squeaking by Komazawa University in a 2-0 yawner of a match.

-While the Club Support Member program soldiers on (I think they’re at around 12,000 memberships, although who knows how many seperate people that represents since one can buy multiple memberships at 1000y each), attendance is markedly down; just less than 30,000 attended Sunday’s Tokyo-Urawa match.

After all of this, Tokyo sits in 14th place with 21 points; goal differential is the only thing keeping us above the likes of Sendai, Kobe, Kyoto, and Shonan. To say things are grim is rather an understatement, but the word that most people (except perhaps my colleague on this site) seem to fear is “relegation.”

Ah, relegation. The difference between 30,000 fans packing Ajinomoto to see Tokyo take on Kashima, and 5,000 showing up to see the home squad face the likes of FC Gifu, Giravantz Kitakyushu (who we will, incidentally, get to face in our next EC match), and Katallier Toyama. Sponsor dollars and prestiege are at stake, and so it’s no wonder that supporters (and club management) must be pissing themselves right now.

Yet, we have been down this road before. At the same point in the 2006 and 2007 seasons we were around 13th place and fell as far as 15th. But we survived, and the club rebuilt around new players and a new manager and had two great seasons. Such is the cylical nature of soccer, one that all fans (save for perhaps Urawa’s) have learned to accept, if not embraced. As a club that has spent the last 11 years in J1 and has never felt the agony of relegation, we are perhaps immune to what bubble clubs like Kashiwa, Kyoto, and Sendai must feel… almost like Kashima, Shimizu, Yokohama FM, Nagoya, and Gamba Osaka: the five clubs that have remained in J1 since the league’s founding in 1993.

But now I’m just waxing eloquent and beefing up the word count, so let’s get down to business.

    Why FC Tokyo will spend 2011 in J1

1. We are not a bad team. Until Nagatomo’s departure, we had one of the best back lines in the league. Players like Mukuhara, Otake, and Shigematsu are valid candidates for the next generation of NT stars, and Gonda is a solid goalkeeper in only his second year.

2. Bad luck cannot last forever. The situation, while admittedly dire, is not AS dire as, for example, Oita’s plunge last year. The last two matches (v. Urawa on Sunday and Shimizu last Wednesday) are basically indicative of this. We had both teams on their heels, and would have won if not for fortunate shot-stopping and SEVERAL (2 v. Urawa and who knows how many vs. Shimizu) clangers. We are very much in control of our own destiny.

3. Our lineup is more or less intact. Injuries at various parts of the season have kept Tokyo from running at full capacity for just about the entire year, but overall our squad is still solid.

4. There are more than 2 teams in J1 who are worse than us. Barring a complete and miraculous turnaround, Kyoto and Shonan are just about doomed. Vissel has fired their coach, Sendai is shaky to say the least, and Omiya, though always willing to play the spoiler role, is still woefully underpowered.

Now, this is all not to say that I’m satisfied with the club and where we’re going; I’m not, and there will definitely need to be major changes undertaken in the offseason if we’re to become competitive again. But if watching the last two matches has shown me anything, it’s that Tokyo has quite a bit of fight left, and the players are not about to lay down and die. One or two wins, the sooner the better, will prove to be an impetus for a late-season restart, and we’ll probably end up 11th or 12th. But this is hardly the end of the world, and Tokyo will again be in the J1 standings in 2011.

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Match Report J1 R15 FC Tokyo 1-1 Iwata

A bumper crowd of over 26,500 rolled up to the National Stadium on Wednesday night to see FC Tokyo attempt to build on last weekend's successful trip to Hiratsuka. The Gasmen had inched up to 11th in the table, and the visitors, Iwata, sat two spots below us in 13th. Jubilo were coming off a home loss to champions Kashima, where they blew a two-goal lead in a 3-2 loss.

Jofuku restored the fit-again Shuichi Gonda in goal, and that was the only change from the Shonan game, so Tokyo lined up: Gonda; Hokuto, Konno, Kim, Matsushita; Hanyu, Kajiyama, Morishige, Otake; Ricardinho, Oguro.

Iwata started much the brighter, they moved the ball around effectively and looked more threatening going forward as Tokyo really struggled to gain a foothold in the game. Gonda had to be at his acrobatic best to tip away a Maeda header from Komano's excellent cross in the early stages.

The most contentious moment of the first half came in the 19th minute, when Tokyo had a perfectly legitimate goal ruled out by a linesman's error. Otake was fouled out on the right, Matsushita stepped up to take the free kick and curled in a great ball that Morishige headed in. When the free kick was taken Kajiyama was standing marginally offside, but he made no run at the ball at all, and Morishige was clearly onside when he started his run.

Iwata continued to shade things for the remainder of the first half, Maeda in particular was very effective and showed why he had solid claims to have been included in the World Cup squad. Tokyo's first half performance was fairly flat, passes were missed and there was little effective link-up play between the midfield and attack.

Tokyo had been out-shot 7-3 in the first 45, and things had to change. A nice halftime fireworks show got the crowd excited and then two minutes after the restart we were all out of our seats after a brilliant bit of thinking by Casual, and another quality finish by Oguro. Rica was fouled out on the right by the touchline, and Casual, who was running slightly ahead of the play, sprinted back and played a beautiful ball into the box to Oguro, who headed back across goal and into the far corner from eight yards. Tokyo had completely caught the Iwata defence napping, and suddenly had the lead.

This season, though, we know nothing is safe, and just four minutes later Iwata were level after the latest piece of “defending” in this, the season of bizarro goals allowed. An Iwata corner from the Tokyo left was headed back across goal into the floor and over Gonda by Nasu, Oguro leapt to clear but the ball just cleared him, which seemed to disorient Matsushita, who stuck out his foot to clear but as he made contact he forgot to pull his head in and the ball came off his forehead and rebounded into the net.

Oh brother. So Tokyo had roughly 40 minutes to find a winner, and Jofuku looked to shake things up by inserting Ishikawa and Akamine (for Otake and Rica, respectively) with about half an hour remaining, but the changes failed to shake Tokyo from its slumber, and Iwata continued to play with more confidence than the hosts, and Gonda made at least three more excellent saves to keep the game level.

Hokuto was on target with a free kick but it was straight at the keeper, and that was about it for chances for us, apart from an Akamine drive that was deflected over after neat work from Morishige and Tatsuya, who came on for Hanyu with 10 minutes left. There was one last glimmer of hope in stoppage time, but Casual blazed high and wide after a corner was headed out to him. Full time 1-1. There was a touching scene after the final whistle, when Dorompa came out and presented Aka with a bouquet in honour of his 100th league appearance, but that didn't stop most fans going home frustrated.

Fair play to Jubilo, though, they brought a load of fans up from Shizuoka on a weeknight, and those punters were rewarded with a good performance from their side. They had the best player on the pitch, Maeda, and left with a deserved point.

For Tokyo, that was our seventh home league draw in a row. We're unbeaten at home in the league, but we haven't won since opening day against Yokohama. We remain in 11th, and visit 9th-placed Niigata on Saturday evening.

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Match Report J1 R14 FC Tokyo 3-1 Shonan

Following the disappointment of Kobe's smash-and-grab raid on Aji Sta the previous weekend, FC Tokyo journeyed down the Tokaido Line to face Shonan, attempting again to get the season back on track.

A quaint little 18,500 seater, Hiratsuka Stadium has a bit of a Komazawa feel to it, nestled in the middle of Hiratsuka “General” Park. This was Tokyo's first ever visit in J1 play, as our rise to the top tier following the 1999 season saw Bellmare go in the opposite direction, where they had stayed for the past 10 seasons. There were some old friends waiting for us too, Tokyo legend Jean has been at Shonan since leaving us at the end of '02, and Emerson, the scorer of 3 league goals for us in '08, had returned to Japan from Brazil during the World Cup break.

Shonan had moved off the foot of the table with an away win at Kyoto last time out, but again, games like these are the ones Tokyo HAVE to win if we are going to push up the league. Jofuku was forced into one change from the Kobe game, Oh Captain, My Captain Tokunaga going down with a knee injury in training, so Casual took the armband, Kim came into the team and played in central defence, and interestingly, rather than Konno, it was Morishige, last week's goat following his stoppage time handball, who moved into the holding midfield role alongside Casual. Otherwise the team was unchanged, so Oguro and Ricardinho had the chance to continue their burgeoning partnership, having impressed together in the Kobe game.

Tokyo had the better of things early on, Morishige dragged his shot wide after good set-up work by Otake and Rica in the 6th minute, then Oguro forced the keeper (Tsuzuki – ex-Red Cubic Zirconia) into a fine stop in the 15th minute after a good low cross from Hokuto. Straight after that chance though, Shonan went down the other end and Emerson would've scored were it not for Matsushita scampering back to head off the line. Abe (who scored their winner vs Kyoto) then went close as Bellmare grew into the game, playing some very neat passing football.

The breakthrough for Tokyo came in the 39th minute, Hanyu fed Rica in down the left, and his excellent first-time cross was headed home from the edge of the six yard box by that man Morishige. From goat to hero his second goal of the season gave us the lead, and there was time for another before half time, as Rica's ball, again from the left, was flicked-on/mis-controlled by Casual towards Oguro, he couldn't connect, but it rolled through for Hanyu, who lashed home from right next to the penalty spot.

2-0 up at half time then. Seen that before, and we've seen it blown before. Rica didn't come out for the second half, not sure why he didn't appear injured, but Akamine replaced him and promptly got himself kicked in the head, as Jean threw himself at a ball attempting to clear off the line following a great run into the box from Hokuto.

Aka dusted himself off though, and then played a big role in Tokyo's third goal after 58 minutes, and it was one to remember for our new boy Oguro, who smashed home his first Tokyo goal from the edge of the area. Hanyu broke up play and fed Akamine, who laid the ball into Oguro's path…one touch and bang! 

Oguro raced through the advertising hoardings to celebrate with the Tokyo fans, and his goal was just reward for another good shift. The finish is hopefully a sign of good things to come, this guy is, after all, a goalscorer by trade.

Shonan pulled a goal back four minutes later after Shiota's parried save was knocked home by Nakamura (who had come on for Emerson), but there was to be no squeaky-bum time on this night as Tokyo confidently played out time, and there was even a chance for young defender Takahashi to make a ten-minute cameo after coming on for Morishige.

So three points in the bank, job done. Hopefully Rica was just being rested for the Iwata game tomorrow night, because he's been excellent the past two games. Oguro should grow in confidence after his goal, and Otake and Hanyu are also taking good form to Kokuritsu.

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About This Site

Aishiteru-Tokyo.com was launched in April of 2008 when dokool decided to troll the Rising Sun Forums and was instead invited by other English-language J.League bloggers to start his own.

About the Writer

dokool lives in Tokyo, Japan, where he spends his nights at punk shows and his weekends at FCT matches (and more punk shows. He can be found at most home games (and reasonably accessible away games) in the LA12 cheering section, often snapping away with his DSLR.