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!
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！
Five years, four months, and ten days have elapsed since FC Tokyo slayed Urawa Reds in penalty kicks to win the 2004 Nabisco Cup. In that space, Urawa has won 12 of 14 games played, with the other two matches (both at Ajinomoto Stadium) ending in scoreless draws. Indeed, it seems that some things in life are guaranteed: death, taxes, cherry blossoms blooming in the spring, and Urawa walking away from FC Tokyo with three points.
Like in 2009, Urawa will play host to Tokyo in its home opener after getting curbstomped 2-0 by reigning champions Kashima Antlers the previous week. Their offense will, again, be in disarray, and fans will, again, be wondering how Finke intends to salvage the team yet, as always, remain irrationally confident that Urawa will win all of the championships they are eligible for and a couple they probably aren’t.
Unlike last year, however, the Reds will not be facing a reeling Tokyo squad with a rookie goalkeeper that had surrendered four goals in a horrific opening day loss to Albirex Niigata a week earlier. Instead, their opponents will be riding the momentum of a breathtaking stoppage time victory and one of Japan’s most heralded back lines, with three of the four regular call-ups to the NT. Shuichi Gonda is no longer a frightened 20 year old, but instead a poised veteran who tied the J.League single-season shutout record and got a national team call-up of his own back in January. Naohiro Ishikawa, who missed last year’s Urawa match following his season-ending knee injury, is likely to be back in the lineup as a “super-sub” and is expected to contribute in a similar fashion to his picture-perfect assist in last week’s match. Hirayama, for several seasons a disappointment, may have finally awoken.
And that is why Tokyo could slay the Urawa dragon tomorrow in front of what’s sure to be a packed house at Saitama Stadium.
In various occasions throughout the last week, players including Hirayama, Nagatomo, and Gonda have made assertive statements regarding a Tokyo victory. And you know what? This year of all years, I think it might be time to belive them.
It’s generally being reported/predicted by the media that Jofuku will keep the same lineup from last week, and whether that’s the best idea or not it seems like there aren’t many better options.
The big question mark will, once again, involve Kajiyama and Ishikawa. Ishikawa is again set to come off the bench as a so-called “super sub”, but there are some rumblings about Kajiyama being ready to start. Unlike last week where the starting lineup was essentially announced on the FCT TV program “Tokyo Hotline,” it seems like Jofuku is playing his cards a little closer to his chest. There’s also a chance that Akamine could earn a start, adding to the mystery.
Or if Kajiyama can start, Gonda; Tokunaga, Morishige, Konno, Nagatomo; Nakamura, Kajiyama, Mukuhara (why not, at least he’ll play 90 minutes), Matsushita; Hirayama, Akamine/Suzuki
Hell, as long as I’m pulling names out of a hat let’s take a page from commenter Bobby Mann Ate My Leg and spin it a little: Gonda; Tokunaga, Morishige, Hiramatsu, Nagatomo; Akamine, Mukuhara, Konno, Matsushita; Hirayama, Ricardinho
I don’t imagine we’ll figure out what’s up until tomorrow, but the possibilities are certainly intriguing. I like Matsushita and want to see him get more playing time… I also want to see Nakamura come out and have a better outing than he did last week. At this point, Suzuki and Hanyu are really starting to become liabilities… Suzuki is a very servicable substitute but Hanyu’s days as a regular starter could be numbered.
In other news…
FC Tokyo announced the tentative signing of 16-year-old volante Shuto Kono on Friday. The young U-17 NT player is the first pro player to emerge from the JFA Academy, a school set up by the Japanese Football Association with the goal of raising Japan’s future elite class of soccer players. He was born and raised in Tokyo and has supported FCT his whole life, which makes him an ideal addition to the squad. Honestly, signing a 16-year-old probably doesn’t mean much in the short term, but there’s a possibility that Kono could be the next Yonemoto so in the long term it’s a very smart pickup for the team.
Sunday’s game is a near-sellout, with 2000 tickets set aside for match-day sales. Saitama Stadium’s capacity is about 63,000. Last year’s Urawa home opener, played in the rain, drew just over 50,000.
Speaking of rain, there’s none expected on Sunday: partly cloudy and around 11C/50F.
Sota Hirayama will contribute a monthly column to Weekly Soccer Magazine with his first article to appear in Tuesday’s edition.
FC Tokyo and derby rivals Kawasaki Frontale are set to announce details for this year’s Tamagawa Classico on Monday. In addition to the usual press conference, the Tower Records in Kawasaki will be selling the official “Tamagawa Classico Anthem” CD (featuring the track “Get The River Under Control”), claimed to be the first musical collaboration between two J.League squads. I’m sure it won’t be as bad as City Bred, Two Colors.
The long, winding road of intra-league supremacy that began in March will finally come to an end at Tokyo National Stadium in about 16 hours when FC Tokyo takes on Kawasaki Frontale in the 2009 J.League Yamazaki Nabisco Cup Final. The two teams, whose matches are dubbed the Tamagawa Classico in honor of the river that borders Tokyo and Kanagawa, will face each other outside of league competition for the first time.
While Kawasaki will attempt to claim its first Cup in 3 attempts (having lost to Kashima in 2000 and Osaka in 2007), Tokyo will try to win its first piece of silverware since the legendary 2004 Nabisco Cup Final, when a 10-man team held off the then-mighty Urawa Reds to win 4:2 in penalty kicks.
While Kawasaki is largely coming into the game at full-strength and leading J1, Tokyo has nearly stumbled into this final having sustained an unfortunate run of bad luck, injuries, and surprise transfers. Among the players Tokyo will be without are striker Cabore (sold to a Qatar club just after Tokyo secured its finals birth), defender Teriyuki Moniwa (broken right orbital bone sustained in the Nagoya match), and midfielder Naohiro Ishikawa (knee ligament/meniscus sustained vs. Kashiwa). NT regular Yuto Nagatomo (dislocated shoulder before the Shimizu match) will likely be a mid-match substitute.
Yet, as we dwell on those whose names may not grace the scoreboard tomorrow, we forget the names and accomplishments of those who will: Shuichi Gonda, the rookie goalkeeper who fell into the role of starter when Hitoshi Shiota fell to post-surgical complications, and despite some early difficulties has had one of the most successful rookie goalkeeper campaigns in recent memory. Takuji Yonemoto, the lithe midfielder who was, tonight, honored with J.League’s “New Hero Award” for his contributions to Tokyo’s Cup run. Bruno Quadros, the Brazillian defender who bounced back from last season’s injuries to bring control to a defense that was lost and confused early in the season. Sota Hirayama, whom after several seasons of disappointing play has finally begun to awaken into the player that many expected him to be. Not to mention Hanyu, Suzuki, Tokunaga, Konno, Kajiyama, and all the others who have taken a part in Tokyo’s rollercoaster of a season.
In previous matches this season, Tokyo gave up a 2-goal lead to lose 3-2 when Bruno got sent off in the second half at Ajinomoto, while in Todoroki Kawasaki came back from an 0-1 deficit to win 2-1 with an extra time goal. Tokyo are considered by most if not all to be the underdogs tomorrow; there is no question about it. But none of this matters, because that’s why they play the game.
This match will either be decided on offense or on defense; will Suzuki, Akamine, or Hirayama be able to burst open a Kawasaki defense ranked 5th in fewest goals allowed this season (35 goals, tied with FC Tokyo)? Can Yonemoto and Bruno contain Juninho and Chong Tese? Will Kajiyama stop doing stupid, stupid things? Will Tokyo ever learn how to defend against set pieces? Most believe it to be a close game, and I’m generally apt to agree with them. A 1-0 or 2-1 result would not be unexpected. Lord knows if we go into extra time I’ll probably have a heart attack in the stands.
As Jofuku has said in interviews leading up to this match, “We’ve only gotten as far as we have by playing the kind of soccer we want to play.” And as always, if the team can do that, they along with what are likely to be many more supporters than witnessed their 2004 victory will taste victory. If by chance they cannot there will be no shame, for this team has met if not exceeded many of our expectations despite runs of bad luck throughout the season.
Really, there’s no description of what this match will be like that’s more fitting than the ad FujiTV placed on the back of today’s El Golazo: “What sort of soccer match sells out in 20 minutes?”
What sort of match, indeed?
As always you can follow @aishiterutokyo on Twitter for live reports. I encourage anyone else who’s tweeting at the game to tag your tweets with #wearetokyo so that people can find them easier.
Also, for those of you watching on TV, these are the banners we’ll be flying at the game:
I will provide a prize to the first person who can provide a screencap from a live broadcast with at least one of these banners in the shot. Email the cap to me at dokool[at]aishiteru-tokyo[dot]com.
And now to finish my packing and get some sleep before first train in the morning.
Sorry about the last couple match reports being delayed; I’ve been really busy with the end of summer and getting ready to start work at my new job. Additionally, due to a sizable photography gig on the 6th, I will not be able to attend the home leg of the FCT/Shimizu Nabisco Cup Semifinal.
Fortunately, due to a good day at the pachinko parlor, I’ve got more than enough funds to attend tomorrow’s away leg. So if you’re on Twitter, follow @aishiterutokyo for the latest from Outsourcing Stadium. I’ll probably spend some time before the game chilling with Barry over at S-Pulse UK Ultras, and that should be fun as I always look forward to meeting other writers in the English J-Soccer Blogosphere.
Shimizu is 4 points ahead of us in the standings; we’ve also beaten them two times already this season. None of this matters of course because this home-and-away series will determine who goes to the finals of the 2009 Yamazaki Nabisco Cup.
Additionally, with Nagatomo and Konno in the Netherlands with the national team, tomorrow’s lineup will probably look something like this:
The most important thing for Tokyo will be scoring precious away goals; a win would be fantastic of course but even a draw would have huge ramifications as long as it’s not 0-0. The team seemed to awaken from its slumber against lowly Oita on Saturday and it was a welcome relief to see Ishikawa back on the field. Tokyo seemed to have a bit of rust in the first 30 minutes but dominated the second half, so I think they’ll be going into Shimizu with the right mentality.
S-Pulse has had a much better summer than Tokyo, going undefeated (5 wins, 4 draws) in league play since their loss at Kokuritsu. Additionally, the Orange… whatevertheyares bounced back from a 2-1 loss at Saitama Stadium to beat Urawa 3-0 at home and advance to the semis. They are certainly one of the most formidable teams in the league right now and to underestimate them is to do so at one’s own peril.
Anyway this will be my 3rd time visiting a new stadium this year (2009 has also marked my first trips to Hitachi Stadium and Kashima Stadium), thus fulfilling one of my New Years Resolutions. So, either way I’ll have accomplished something!
Tomorrow’s match against Yokohama FM will be crucial for FC Tokyo as it begins the next phase of the Summer Counterattack. Currently 4 points out of an ACL spot and 15 from the top, Tokyo needs to buckle down and put together another long chain of victories after its recent stumbles.
Unfortunately, tomorrow’s game will see a drastically altered lineup due to a variety of circumstances:
-Yuto Nagatomo underwent an appendectomy on August 3rd; although he’s recovering and participating in team practices he does not yet feel ready to start and the team is probably looking to have him return in time for Kashima next Sunday.
-Yohei Kajiyama recived his 4th yellow card of the season in the Kawasaki match and will sit Sunday out.
-Naohiro Ishikawa, in what is certainly the most upsetting news for the team injured his calf during practice earlier in the week and will sit the game out.
-Bruno Quadros flew back from Brazil on Friday, having returned there last week to be with his wife while she underwent surgery. As a result of jet lag and not having practiced this week he will likely not be a part of the lineup.
How will Jofuku manage with this temporarily dire situation? His lineup will surely be a test of Tokyo’s roster depth, and fortunately it appears that there are plenty of players to fill the various gaps.
On defense, Nagatomo’s role could be filled by Kenta Mukuhara, while Bruno’s position could be taken by Teriyuki Moniwa or Hideki Sahara, neither of whom have not played in several months.
The second line is somewhat more strained; El Golazo predicts that Ishikawa’s position will be covered by Soutan Tanabe, while Kajiyama will be relieved by veteran Jo Kanazawa. Yet Jofuku has two more trump cards in the form of Yohei Otake and Hokuto Nakamura, both of whom have returned from injury and are regular participants in team practices.
Both FC Tokyo and Nagoya Grampus started the season with high expectations yet failed to meet them; the difference between the two teams is that Tokyo seems to have regained its footing while Nagoya continues to flounder in the middle of the table, closer to the danger zone than any team should be comfortable with. While Tokyo has recovered from its slow start to the season (-game winning streak including two Cup matches), Nagoya is wearing itself ragged by participating simultaniously in J1, the ACL, and the Nabisco Cup. If the orcas want to stay in contention for J1 they may have to make some very tough choices soon about which titles they’re going to put effort into chasing.
Speaking of the Nabisco Cup, FC Tokyo is in the Round of 8 as well; their opponent? Nagoya. The teams will play again at Ajinomoto Stadium on Wednesday evening. I’m not even sure if Grampus is planning on going home in the 2-day interim. In any case although whoever wins Sunday’s match may have a psychological advantage, but both teams will be able to read each other’s strategy and adjust accordingly for the rematch.
Though billed as an epic confrontation between two of the league’s highest scorers (Davi at the top of the table with 10 goals, and Ishikawa right behind him with 9), that storyline took a (not quite so) surprising turn when it was announced that Davi had been sold by Grampus to a club team in Qatar. While he will still play the next three matches, a pending medical check will surely keep the Brazillian from making any bold challenges. Never mind the fact that his heart may not be into helping Nagoya win as much as it will be into considering how to spend all of the petrodollars he’s to recieve. Tokyo has dodged an additional bullet in that Nagoya’s new Aussie striker Joshua Kennedy won’t be in the lineup until the 18th.
Ishikawa, on the other hand, is scoring goals so phenomenal that even traditionally staid Japanese announcers are showing signs of excitement. Tokyo’s offensive strategy seems to be “use long passes to break through the opponent’s second line, push the back line into the box, get the ball to Nao at the top of the box, and watch him send a picture-perfect volley somewhere in the vicinity of “between the crossbar and the goalkeeper’s outstretched hands”. And it’s working. oh lawdy is it working.
On defense, Konno and Bruno have teamed up to bring stability at the CB position and were successful in shutting down Vissel’s attacks last week. Yonemoto is also contributing thoroughly on defense; the young star seems to be in 3 places at once on many occasions.
Tokyo’s starting lineup has remained essentially unchanged since league play resumed; given how much the lineup was being tweaked on a weekly basis in the first few weeks of the season this is perhaps the best sign that things have finally calmed down in the capital city.
Nagoya may have broken a 4-game losing streak against Osaka last week, but they didn’t win the game so much as a bad goalkeeping blunder lost it for Gamba. Tokyo is arguably the hottest team in the league right now and they will more than likely continue their winning streak. If Tokyo can sweep their games this week (a reasonable possibility), it will be a bold statement that the Gasmen are in the running for a title in 2009.
This will be the first match at Ajinomoto Stadium in a month and a half; improvements and repairs have been made to the pitch and the irrigation system.
It’s Clasico time! FC Tokyo and Kawasaki Frontale will take on each other in the 15th edition of the Tamagawa Clasico and the last J.League match before the national team break. This rivalry, more or less a low-level derby, came as a resulty of the Tamagawa River that separates Western Tokyo and Kanagawa. The front offices of both teams work together to promote the Clasico, which has provided several entertaining matches. In the last two years, the team that has won the first leg has gone on to win the second; Kawasaki took the series in ’07 and Tokyo dominated in ’08. With J.League Division 1 set to return to play at the end of June, a win would put either team in contention going into the next part of the season.
Though off to a shaky start this year, Tokyo looks to be regaining its form and several players who have been out with injuries recently (Cabore, Tokunaga, Ishikawa, and Kajiyama) appear to be healthy and are in the running to make the roster tomorrow. Tokyo’s lineup has also been bolstered by the long-awaited appearance of Hokuto Nakamura, who capped his J1 return with a goal against Yokohama F. Marinos last Saturday night.
Kawasaki has one of the most potent offenses in the league; to say that Gonda will be challenged is an understatement. The question is not if he will have to make a big save, but when. Defense will be helped by Tokunaga’s return; Konno has done quite well in the backfield and it will be interesting to see if Jofuku keeps him there.
Offensively, though goals still aren’t coming as frequently as anyone will like, the offense seems like it could come together with Hirayama redoubling his efforts and Nakamura making a big splash onto the scene. Whether Ishikawa and Kajiyama will have an impact on their return is to be seen, but Cabore back in front will certainly be welcome.
On the weather front, rain predicted for tomorrow. Yuck.
The last couple Clasicos at Ajinomoto have been high-scoring affairs, however I fear that if the same happens tomorrow it will not be in Tokyo’s favor. The team is capable of winning a 1-0 or 2-1 match, but unless the offense suddenly finds its mojo Tokyo can’t win in a shootout. The rain predicted to fall tomorrow could be in Tokyo’s favor as it becomes a game of attrition.
The team announced today that in response to the flu threat, normal on-field pre-game activities involving the fans will not take place. These include the group of kids that give the players high-fives as they come onto the field for practice, the fans carrying the Fair Play flag, and the children that hold the players’ hands as they come onfield during the official introductions. The Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra concert, however, is still on and will hopefully be fantastic.
May 16th 2009, 7PM Kickoff at Nissan Stadium (Yokohama, Kanagawa)
J1 Competition Record: Yokohama FM 6 wins, 5 draws, FC Tokyo 7 wins
Due to unavoidable circumstances over the last couple weekends, today’s match will be the first for me in about a month. While I’m not exactly the most optimistic given how our season has gone so far, that’s why the play the game and there’s still opportunity for Tokyo to come back and make a strong effort this season.
Unfortunately, we’ll be without two of our greatest assets: prolific goalscorer Naohiro Ishikawa is out with injury, as is striker Cabore. This will undoubtedly weaken our already-decimated offense, which just hasn’t played with the confidence it carried all last season. As a result, Akamine, Hirayama, and Kondo will have to step it up on offense… which they haven’t done so well with all season.
Jofuku is attempting to tweak positions even further by starting Nagatomo on the right side, with yet-to-suit-up Nakamura having displayed great poise as a left SB in practice. Hokuto will join the team lineup for the first time tonight, likely coming off the bench.
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.