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.

4 thoughts on “Tokyo’s Struggles and The “R” Word”

  1. Good to have you back blogging on here dokool. Don’t take any of this the wrong way, but in the interests of healthy debate I’d like to pick you up on a few things. Firstly, let me preface everything I’m going to say from this point on with a very clear statement: I hope to hell we don’t go down! However, I’m afraid, its a very real possibility, and, while I appreciate your optimism, I feel you may be rather blinkered about the danger we’re facing.

    At the beginning of your piece, you say, quite correctly, “We haven’t been winning” and “We haven’t been scoring”, but your first reason we won’t go down “Why FC Tokyo will spend 2011 in J1” is that “We are not a bad team.” Twenty-two games, four wins, one home win in 11, is that not a big enough sample size? That’s pretty bad mate. We can go through individuals and their performances another time, but let me ask you this: Are we a good team? What have you seen this season that shows you we are? Hitting the post a few times recently?

    I somewhat agree with point four on your list, but we’ve played Kobe home and away and drawn twice, and drew with Sendai at home, and we’re level on points with both of them, so they certainly aren’t worse than us as things stand.

    I presume you were referring to me as your colleague when you said “the word that most people (except perhaps my colleague on this site) seem to fear is “relegation.”” On the contrary, let me tell you (again) I’m absolutely terrified of us going down, and I said that to you when we sat next to each other at the Nabisco 1/4 Final 1st Leg, as well as my opinions on the future of Jofuku. If I recall correctly, that night you wouldn’t have the possibility of either us being relegated or Jofuku getting the can, yet I’m the one who doesn’t fear relegation? Too right I do! Do you? You should!

    On my blog, “Last Man Standing” (excuse the plug, http://lms-football.blogspot.com is the address) I closed my August 26 piece “The Sorry State of FC Tokyo” with this paragraph “I’m sure most (almost all?) Tokyo fans believe we’re too good to go down, and that our squad has too much quality to see us relegated, but … he (Jofuku) needs to show more adaptability and raise his players for what lies ahead, or we’ll be off to Gifu and Kita-Kyushu, amongst other J2 stops next year.”

    Forgive me for coming off all glass-half-empty (you have known me for a while now!), but I’m worried that you think we’re “too good to go down.”

  2. I would also have to take issue with the “not a bad team” point. Although we have improved over the last few games, we have looked pretty bad to me most of the season. I think the main reason we looked so much better last season was the form of Ishikawa, who was really dynamic and galvanised the team. He has been really poor this year. Also, the loss of Yonemoto was big, mostly as it has led Jofuku to strange experiments in the heart of the team with Tokunaga and Morishige (liability) playing there. Also none of the summer signings have worked out at all, apart from maybe Kim who has started to look decent at centre half.

    The other issue which worries me is this one of luck. I have been watching football for a long time and have often observed the team with good players who “just need to gel” or “just need the luck to turn around” end up relegated (Newcastle, Leeds etc.).

    Let’s hope we stay up as I do not want to be sitting in crowds of under 10,000 in that huge stadium next year, and I still believe we do have the core of a team (Gonda, Yone, Konno, Ishikawa back in form) that is capable of success. Jofuku needs to wise up about a few things though, e.g. his tranfer targets, playing people out of position all the time and persisting with fucking hell Tatsuya (to give him his full name).

  3. Ahhhhh….the fear of relegation is true and real like Christmas coming this December 25th. I was just looking at the standings and we are only in 14th because Kobe as a -11 on goal differential. Are we “too good” to fail? Of course not. This team is coming off of some of its best football in years, with the 2009 season becoming a hollow gong FCT need to shake things up and fast. Being a Toronto FC supporter we fired our head coach of only 9 some months and our GM a few days ago. This in only our 4th year as an MLS club, the fans demanded it and it was done. Jofoku as done little to alter the effects of this slide. At this point he needs to be let go. There’s a lot of football to play for this J1 season and there needs to be a turn around right quick. I believe Dan when he says that against Urawa and Shimizu FCT played great football when it mattered, but that still didn’t stop the bleeding. What counts are wins, and it’s becoming crucial to at least eek out something from the remaining games. Anything is possible, even J2. To that I say, “so what?” maybe this will show who’s a real FCT supporter. Maybe it’ll change the way the club thinks and organizes its players and administration. it’s not as if this has happened overnight. It’s been a downward slide since Nagatomo departed to Cessena. (who by the way are playing really well, and when I watched him the other week I couldn’t feel a tinge of regret seeing him in black rather than in blue and red) Ishikawa and Hirayama have fallen on the wayside. Hirayama has always been more of a loss than a gain in my opinion. FCT can’t simply rely on two players to win games. Doesn’t work that way. The season can be salvaged if major changed occur before the game at Iwata, because perhaps it’ll get down to that goal differential. And that will be a major shame.

  4. hey, whats wrong with Gifu?? haha

    Ahh.. the J2. Welcome. Don’t worry, the J2 can be a refreshing break from the pressures of J1…
    The key is, get back up in 1 year!
    Ask people from hiroshima or kashiwa this year and they will tell you as much. You can win alot more games, visit new places, broaden your horizons and come out feeling like champions!
    Sure, attendance numbers will drop, but if you look at teams like Sendai, Kofu, Kashiwa etc they have been able to maintain great figures while being in the J2 so it’s not impossible.
    The only thing is traveling away teams from outside of Kanto won’t be bringing numbers anywhere like the numbers from Urawa etc..

    But stay positive and enjoy the change of scenery!

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