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.