Category Archives: F.C. Tokyo Match Preview

Match Preview: J1 Week 8, Gamba Osaka vs. FC Tokyo

March 29th 2009, 7PM Kickoff at Expo ’70 “Banpaku” Stadium (Osaka City, Osaka)

J1 Competition Record: Osaka 8 wins, 2 draws, FCT 8 wins

Preview
Short and sweet because it’s Golden Week and I’ve got to pump out 3 or 4 more of these.

Tonight’s match at Banpaku finds both teams struggling; the home team has to play 7 matches in 22 days due to its ACL commitments while FC Tokyo has yet to score more than one goal in any match this season.

I’m going to repeat that because it sounds a little important.  FC Tokyo has yet to score more than one goal in any match this season.  That includes 7 league matches and 2 Nabisco Cup matches for a total of 9 goals in 9 games.  Compare to last season when in 9 games the team scored 14 goals (granted that includes 6 league matches and 3 Nabisco matches, but that’s splitting hairs).  The team has excelled in winning close matches it probably doesn’t deserve to win (see Iwata and Oita) but has set new standards for futility in losing matches everyone was expecting it to win (Chiba, Niigata, etc).

In the battle of the forwards, the big head to head is Yusuke Kondo for Tokyo against Gamba’s own former FCT squadmember Lucas.  Lucas scored in both matches against Tokyo last year (one of which was a draw, the other a win for the blue and red) and has stated his desire for a 3rd in a row.  Yusuke on the other hand has continued to get starts but hasn’t contributed enough in the scoring department to make the case for not being substituted.

If Tokyo can pull off another win in enemy territory, the team might return to Ajinomoto Stadium on Saturday with something resembling momentum.  If not, then the struggle will likely continue.  Tokyo squandered a great start to the 2008 season in last year’s Golden Week Sprint, maybe the team will find solid ground after a shaky start in this year’s.

Match Preview: J1 Week 6 FC Tokyo vs. JEF United Chiba

April 18th 2009, 1PM Kickoff at Tokyo Olympic Stadium (Sendagaya, Tokyo)

J1 Competition Record: FCT # wins, # draws, Chiba # wins

Background

In a move set to coincide with Tokyo's presentation to site evaluators for the 2016 Olympics, tonight's match between FC Tokyo and JEF United Chiba will be played at the old Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.  Both teams are hoping for an Olympian effort from their players as the squads have so far failed to meet expectations.  FC Tokyo is off to a shaky start and coming off of a well-fought loss to Kashima, while Chiba has completely failed to play up to expectations and is still winless after 5 rounds.  FC Tokyo will be looking for revenge as Chiba's come-from-behind victory in front of a sold-out home crowd at Fukuari at the end of last season saved the team from relegation.  Given how Chiba is playing at the moment, perhaps they would have been better off taking a J2 vacation after all.

The Matchup

Rookie Yonemoto looks like he could be making his first pro start, as he was used as part of the main force in practices this week.  Jofuku will continue to tweak the lineup in an effort to finally get all of the pieces of the puzzle to fall into place.  Wish I had more than that, but I'm quite burned out this week.  On the plus side we're against a team that's winless in its first 5 games so deep analysis isn't really necessary.

Predictions

A win, most likely.  It'd be very good if we went to town on Chiba and started to make up some of that goal differential.  We'll see!

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Match Preview: J1 Week 5 FC Tokyo vs. Kashima Antlers

April 12th 2009, 1PM Kickoff at Ajinomoto Stadium (Chofu, Tokyo)

J1 Competition Record: FCT 5 wins, 3 draws, Kashima 10 wins

Background

This is going to be quick and dirty because it's about 12 hours before kickoff and I've been busy as all hell with school.  In any case anyone who's reading this page probably realizes that the Antlers are defending league champs, but have to juggle their quest for a 3rd straight league title with halfhearted aspirations for the ACL.  Tokyo's last match was a rain-soaked 1-0 victory against basement-dwellers Jubilo Iwata in which the man of the match was probably Gonda for his superb saves.  Kashima's last match was against some Singapore team on Tuesday in ACL play, which was apparently a 4-1 thrashing.  In any case Kashima might be a wee bit jetlagged and Tokyo's itching for a chance to continue its climb up to the top of the table, with many still wondering when Tokyo will play up to its potential.  It should be notable that the two teams' last meeting was a dramatic 3-2 victory for FCT; it was also the last loss the Antlers would take for the rest of the season.

The Matchup

Apparently Jofuku is trying some weird system out, 4-3-2-1 or 4-4-2-1, something along those lines.  As I've said in previous posts, I don't care if he does 2-3-5 as the team wins.  I wish I had a more complex analysis for the readership but I'm falling asleep in my chair so we'll leave it at that.

Predictions

Gonda needs to play as well as he did against Jubilo if not better.  The rest of the team needs to play much better.  Kashima will be looking for revenge and the fans will be looking for victory.  It'll be an aggressive match, possibly with a red card somewhere down the line.  Hell if I'm going to make a prediction as to the winner.

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Match Preview: J1 Week 4 Jubilo Iwata vs. FC Tokyo

April 4th 2009, 7PM Kickoff at Yamaha Stadium (Iwata City, Shizuoka)

J1 Competition Record: Jubilo Iwata 11 wins, 2 draws, FCT 5 wins

Background

With Japan comfortably in position to return to the World Cup stage, all eyes turn back to the domestic stage as J.League returns to weekly play.  Tokyo's first game away from the Kanto area comes against Jubilo Iwata, a team in far greater peril than an FCT side struggling to overcome injury and misfires.  While Tokyo claimed its first win of the season in Week 3 against Yamagata, Jubilo has one draw (against Urawa) and two losses to its record.  The former J.League dynasty managed to fight off relegation last year; but a promotion-relegation series-less J.League will not afford them such an opportunity in 2009.

While the competition record certainly looks good for Jubilo, in truth Tokyo has found its footing in recent years.  The two squads met most recently last December in a 5-1 thrashing that pushed Jubilo ever closer to the brink of demotion, with Tokyo sweeping the yearly series overall.

The Matchup

With Hirayama out of the lineup due to injury, the team will likely rely on Akamine and Cabore to get the job done.  Akamine has scored four goals against Jubilo and will be looking to add to that count.  Cabore found his first score of the season in the loss at Kashiwa, but he also had major roles in the goal against Urawa and Otake's point against Kobe so look for him to remain a major factor.  Speaking of Otake, the young star's performance in the Kobe match should earn him a starting spot this week.  They'll have no better chance than against Jubilo; the team's goalkeeper allowed 6 goals in the season opener against Yamagata and has allowed 11 so far this season.

On defense, Nagatomo and Gonda have drawn lines in the sand this week, claiming that from here on out they're aiming for zero goals allowed.  Gonda's clean sheet against Kobe will have boosted his confidence, and Nagatomo had a solid performance for the national team in their 1-0 win against Bahrain.  Mukuhara proved himself against Kobe and could see time as a substitute if Jofuku thinks he's ready for a league match.

Predictions

After a rough start to the season, the Tokyo everyone was expecting will show up on Saturday night in Iwata City.  Tokyo will score more than one goal and the blue and red machine will begin the march to victory.

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Match Preview: J1 Week 3 FC Tokyo vs. Montedio Yamagata

March 21st 2009, 2PM Kickoff at Ajinomoto Stadium (Chofu, Tokyo)

J1 Competition Record: none

Background

As Montedio Yamagata hopes to keep its surprising form going, FC Tokyo’s players hope to reward manager Hiroshi Jofuku with the best birthday present possible; the first win of 2009 and an end to the unexpectedly poor start to the season.

Yamagata are a mystery to most J1 teams; while pundits and reporters across the board in both languages had predicted that the team had no chance of staying in Japan’s top division for more than one season, they have managed to stay near the top of the table after two weeks (a small sample size, granted) with a win against the halpless-looking Jubilo Iwata and a draw in the snow against touted favorites Nagoya Grampus.  Despite the weather, over 12,000 fans came out for the game, leading some to wonder if Montedio could end up being the little team that could.

On the other hand, FC Tokyo came into the season riding high on a wave of expectations, but has so far failed to deliver.  The offense has sputtered in its first two matches, only scoring two goals, while the porous, injury-ridden defense has allowed 7 as first-time goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda has struggled to assert himself.  Though there are still 32 matches in the season, Tokyo is in a position where, should it not quickly assert itself as the league powerhouse it aspires to be, the team may be battling to avoid relegation instead of battling for an ACL slot.

The Matchup

The best way to describe Tokyo’s lineup would probably be “better late than never.”  Defender Hideki Sahara and midfielder Naohiro Ishikawa returned to the lineup in time for the Urawa match following injuries sustained during training camp, with Ishikawa coming on in the second half as a substitution and contributing some of Tokyo’s best chances at goals.  Jofuku decided, for one reason or another, not to start Sahara at defense against Urawa; a decision he may still be regretting.  Expect Sahara on the field and ready to release two weeks of frustration on any Montedio player he comes into contact with.  Nagatomo, Tokunaga, and either Moniwa or Hiramatsu (probably Moniwa) will of course join him on the back line.

Midfielders and forwards are, unfortunately, the larger issue.  Last week Konno and Kajiyama played at defensive midfielder positions but still failed to halt the red tide, they should have better luck this week.  team captain Hanyu and either Suzuki or Ishikawa will also round out the midline.  At forward will be Cabore and… Hirayama?  The Lost Boy of Tokyo showed impressive form against Chiba in Sunday’s Satellite League match, scoring two goals off headers and demonstrating an air game that Tokyo has lacked so far.  He followed this up with another solid performance in a practice match on Thursday, intercepting an errant pass and kicking a 20-meter goal past a defender.  Given the lackluster play of Akamine and Kondo so far, it’s certainly worth a shot.  Even if Hirayama doesn’t get the start, expect to see him on as a midfield substitution.

On the Montedio side… well, truth be told I really don’t know too much about them.  That they pistol-whipped Jubilo should be no surprise since that team is on track for a swift J2 demotion after avoiding a similar fate last season, but holding Nagoya to a snow-capped 0-0 draw is still an impressive feat.  Yamagata has a lot of everyman players; not too many stars to speak of but a bunch of hard workers who will Get The Job Done.  And that’s not bad to have on your side no matter who you play.

Predictions

0-2 is the worst start in team history; I don’t expect it to become 0-3.  The team’s back is against the wall and they know it, expect Week 3 to be the game where a line in the sand is drawn and Tokyo takes home its first victory of the season.

Following this match, the league takes a break for international play (Japan hosts Bahrain at Saitama Stadium on the 28th).  Before J1 play resumes on April 4th, Tokyo will face Kashiwa Reysol and Vissel Kobe in Nabisco Cup group play.  These two matches will either allow a team coming off their first league win a chance to build on their momentum or give a winless squad a chance to tinker with their lineup and finally get it right.  I, and many others, hope it will be the former.

Errata

While the weather on Friday was gray and rainy and miserable, clear and sunny skies are in store for Saturday.  The promotion for the match is Tokyo Kids Club Day, with Elementary/Jr. High student tickets going for 100 yen.  In addition to manager Hiroshi Jofuku’s birthday, March 21st is also the predicted start of Tokyo’s cherry blossom season.

As of this posting, there does not seem to have been any settlement in the case of the broken chair in Section 57.  While the chair was replaced for Tokyo Verdy’s match at the stadium, should someone not come forward before tomorrow’s match that part of the stands may be blocked off.  We’ll see how LA12 reacts in that case.

Game Preview: J1 Week 1 FC Tokyo vs. Albirex Niigata

March 7th 2009, 1PM Kickoff at Ajinomoto Stadium (Chofu, Tokyo)

J1 Competition Record: FCT 6 wins, 0 draws, Albirex Niigata 8 wins

Background

After two and a half months of endless waiting, the 2009 J.League season is finally upon us!  FC Tokyo will open the 2009 campaign at home against Albirex Niigata, who will likely bring its sizable contingent of supporters along for the ride.  Both teams are looking to win for totally different reasons; FC Tokyo hopes to prove its legitimacy as a title contender, while Niigata wants to forget the mediocrity of last season as quickly as possible.

The Matchup

FC Tokyo will be limping into the opening match following what could only be described as an unusually rough offseason.  The team will be without their first-string GK Shiota (still in the hospital following complications related to his emergency Appendectomy in February), and most likely without DF Sahara (right hip) and MF Ishikawa (left ankle).  I’m seeing reports that Hokuto Nakamura did something to his leg as well but I can’t find anything solid on that front.  DF Nagatomo, who injured his knee in training camp, has been practicing normally with the team and claimed he would be ready for Saturday.

To ante up the drama, FW Cabore returned to the team on Wednesday following an urgent trip to his home country of Brazil to visit his ailing father.  Cabore is said to have continued his training while in Brazil so as not to lose ground and should have shaken off the jet lag by kickoff.

As for the team’s formation, while FCT changed from the 4-3-3 formation it used in 2008 to a 4-4-2B formation in training camp, Weekly Soccer Digest is predicting, for reasons unknown to me, a 4-3-2-1 spread.  The team has opted to conduct its final practice matches under a complete media blackout so for all I know they’re trying out 2-3-5… which would be kinda fun to watch, but I digress.  WSD is hot off the presses so I’m going to assume 4-3-2-1 until I see a starting lineup announcement, in any case.

With Nagatomo’s return, he’ll likely take the left back position with Tokunaga on the right and Moniwa pairing up with new aquisition Daishi Hiramatsu as center backs.

At midfield will be Bruno, Konno, and Kajiyama.  Ahead of them will Hanyu and Akamine, with Cabore taking the charge up front.

In goal will be second-string goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda, who celebrated his 20th birthday on Tuesday with a promise to give 100% effort to his team.  Gonda, in his third year with FC Tokyo, has yet to log playing time but is considered by some to have skills superior to Shiota’s based on what he’s demonstrated in practice.  In a way, this will be the perfect baptism by fire for the young goalkeeper; he will be exposed to all of the trappings of a major game (as season openers tend to be portrayed as): a large crowd (could reach 30,000), a large number of visiting supporters (as is the case with Albirex fans), and all the pomp and circumstance involving the new mascot and suchlike… but then the game starts and he only has to face Albirex Niigata.  Granted, it’s not like they’re playing Montedio Yamagata, but they’re not throwing him to the wolves of Kashima or Urawa.  That comes next week.

Critical to stopping Albirex’s attack will be containing forward Hideo Oshima, who transferred in the offseason from Yokohama FM.  This task will likely fall to Moniwa and he’ll have ample backup from Hiramatsu should things go pear-shaped.

On offense, FC Tokyo will need to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more.  The sooner FCT can get a goal or two on the board, the faster Gonda will get some confidence and once he asserts himself on the field it’s likely a done deal.

Predictions

Albirex’s mascot may be the swan but from what I’ve seen they’re little more than a paper crane.  Though Tokyo isn’t going into the game at full-strength and Shiota’s presence will be missed, a strong supporter presence and Cabore’s influence on team morale should make up for that.  Gonda will inevitably concede a goal through a stupid rookie mistake but that won’t get in the way of a Tokyo victory, after which the team can begin preparing for its pivotal match against Urawa in Week 2.

[Match Preview] Aishiteru Tokyo Returns! FCT vs. Yokohama F. Marinos (J1R19 07.26.08 @ Ajisuta)

Ohayooooooo gozaimasu!

It’s been a long, long couple of months, readers, but now that an unfortunate travel schedule, the necessary needs of others (no, my girlfriend would not let me take her to the Osaka game for her birthday, despite my best attempts at begging) and a series of away games have kept me pretty much completely out of the FC Tokyo loop, I’m back.

…and look at the mess that’s been made in my absence.

Since the break, FC Tokyo has gone from third place to 9th, winless in the last five games with three draws and two losses.  The draws, all 1-1, came to newly-English-managed JEF Chiba, Gamba Osaka (where former FC Tokyo striker Lucas scored the goal for the opposition), and upstarts Kyoto Sanga, when a lost time score by Akamine salvaged a point.  The losses came to league leaders Kashima (4-1) and Urawa (2-0) in what have been described as spirited games but, for some reason or another, FC Tokyo has not been able to capitalize on the myriad of chances it tends to have during games.

What else is new.

In addition, FC Tokyo lost to Oita on the home leg of the Nabisco Cup Quarterfinal, meaning that to force a shootout FC Tokyo would have to at least win in Oita, and win by two goals or more to move to the next round on aggregate.  Times are tough for Tokyo, but given how crowded the top of the standings are (FC Tokyo is but 8 points away from current leaders Kashima) and how much things have shifted since the break (Kashiwa in 5th? Omiya in 14th and 4 points from the relegation playoff? JEF in last plac— oh, well, guess some things haven’t changed) and how there are still 16 matches left in the season, FC Tokyo can still rise to the top.

Now summer is upon us, and games are being held at 6 and 7PM in order to keep the fans from dying of heatstroke while waiting for kickoff (although how effective this actually is can be up for debate).  Tonight’s match, the first home game of the second half of the season, will give the blue&red prime opportunity to begin their comeback against a Yokohama F.Marinos squad that is obviously in a state of disarray, with a new manager having been hired after the team fell into the relegation zone.

On the FC Tokyo side, Ishikawa, Nagatomo, and Hanyu have recovered enough from injuries to become reliable starters again, and Jofuku has enough faith in Hirayama to put him out as a starter as well.  Emerson, Otake, and Akamine have become Tokyo’s chosen substitutes, but Akamine’s last-gasp goal against Kyoto may earn him a spot on the starting eleven today.

So, what needs to happen for a win?  Tokyo needs to get the ball into the goddamned net.  Simple as that.  They have been befuddled in the last few weeks by shots missed by a hair, shots denied by the crossbar, shots that weren’t shots, you name it, even more so than usual. That must stop and it must stop tonight.

This evening’s match will feature fireworks at halftime, here’s hoping that Tokyo can bring some to the field as well.

[Match Preview] (06.08) Kawasaki Verdy vs. FC Tokyo @ Kokuritsu [Nabisco Cup Group B]

While the Samurai Blue are fighting it out in Oman tonight, tomorrow marks the end of Nabisco Cup qualifying.  FC Tokyo is currently tied w/ Oita for the second wildcard spot – check the last post in this blog for Lantis’ analysis of the overall scenario.

But, what better way to mark the last round of qualifying than a good ole’ Tokyo Derby?  Verdy will “host” Tokyo at Kokuritsu, aka National Olympic Stadium.  The rainy season has started, so there’s a 60% chance of the wet stuff coming down at kickoff, which will be lovely.  In addition to that, I’m writing this post quickly so that I can hit the road to go shoot just after arriving home at 6 in the morning from shooting a friend’s DJ Event down in Koenji, after 3 straight days of shooting punk shows.  Which means I’ll be going to the game (3PM kickoff) on something like no hours of sleep.  Whee.

I predict a solid victory from Tokyo and that they’ll find themselves at the least comfortably in second place for the wildcard slots.  I also predict I will be very, very tired.

[Match Preview] 05.24 FC Tokyo vs Tokyo Verdy @ Ajinomoto Stadium

It’s pouring buckets outside and is supposed to continue doing so well into tomorrow, with Yahoo! Japan predicting a 50% chance of rain at kickoff.  It will be wet, it will be humid, the game technically doesn’t matter, and the fallout from the clusterfuck at last week’s Urawa/Gamba match may mean that stadium security will be a bit too overzealous in making sure that peace is kept between the two supporter groups, but it will be a Tokyo Derby nonetheless.

What to write… honestly, I don’t even know, I was in Yoyogi last night and the night before to shoot at Zher the Zoo and my ears still haven’t regained their full capabilities.  Let’s see…

-This is a Nabisco Cup qualifier, so, as I said, it doesn’t really matter when it comes to J1.  Currently Shizuka is in the lead with 7 points, followed by FCT and Jubilo with 4 each (FCT leads on goals scored?) and Verdy trailing with two points.  An FC Tokyo win would undoubtedly eliminate Verdy from the Cup.

-If you want to talk momentum, FC Tokyo is coming off of a much-needed win in Jubilo after losing two straight 1-0 decisions to the home crowd and squandering a Golden Week Spring that could have easily found them in first place.  However, in a “fortuitous” series of results, none of the other teams at the top of the standings were really able to capitalize on anything, leaving FC Tokyo in 3rd place, three points behind Nagoya and Urawa.  Verdy has recovered from its poor form early on in the season, going 4-1-1 in the last 6 games and rising to 11th place at 17 points.  Given that the difference between 4th place (Kashiwa and Kawasaki, 20 points) and 16th place (Jubilo) is only 6 points, we could (and most likely will) see a totally different order by the time the season ends.

-Verdy will be at full strength for the game because their team is nothing but foreigners and old men (FC Nippon indeed!).  However, FC Tokyo has 3 players who are wearing the Samurai Blue for the national team and won’t be in the lineup (Kajiyama is w/ the U-23 team in Europe, while Nagatomo and Konno are with the A-team in Japan)  The pitch condition will blow, expect to see the Green Gaijin Gang get substituted or warm the bench for Verdy while FCT will give some of its younger players a chance to start – possibly Yusuke, Otake… who knows.

-Who knows how security will be as a result of the incident between Gamba and Urawa last weekend… personally I don’t think either set of fans feels like starting shit in the rain.  I hope not.

Soilent Green has some random facts about the derby, including player participation and such as well as duly noting that Blue/Red has owned Green for the majority of the rivalry.  In an unrelated matter from one of his previous posts he admits that I Am Right.  Not that we didn’t already know this, of course.

And that’s all for now because I’m damned tired.  See you tomorrow at Ajisuta!

[Preview] 04.26 – 05.10 GOLDEN WEEK SPRINT (J1 Round 8 through 12)

As is apparently traditional, J.League schedules each team for 4 or 5 matches during the Golden Week holiday in an attempt to get more attendees into the stadiums while they can enjoy a rare extended holiday.

In FC Tokyo’s case, this means five matches played over the span of two weeks, three at home and two away. These matches are against a variety of opponents from all over the table, and how they perform in this period will be as good an indicator as any of what the season holds for the team.

I will not be attending the first match (away at Shimizu) for obvious reasons. However, as I’m a season ticket holder I’ll be at the Oita, Nagoya, and Kashiwa home games, and have procured a ticket to attend the away campaign at Omiya. So, in the interest of not flooding this blog with 20 posts in a week by posting match previews every 24 hours (and in the interest of staying sane by not having to do so), I’m going to preview the upcoming two weeks of insanity here in one big post. Match reports/YouTube roundups will hopefully come after each match and if anything occurs that drastically alters the face of any matches I’ll naturally post that as well.

So, let’s get started with the home team!

Where FC Tokyo Stands

It’s been a long time since the Blue and Red stood alone as high as third place (the last time they were this high in J1 was in 2005, when they spent the first month or two of the season in first place). Trailing last year’s champion Kashima Antlers by two points and the current table leaders Nagoya Grampus by five, FC Tokyo is arguably the hottest team in the league right now – while Nagoya may be in the lead, and teams like Kashima and Urawa may have stronger rosters, Tokyo has youth, poise, and a new sort of confidence that the team – and the fans – have been waiting for. Manager Jofuku has put a team on the field that the supporters expected last year and have been waiting for for the last several years – what remains to be seen is whether that momentum can be sustained.

On the attack side, FC Tokyo is taking more shots, controlling its passing better, and getting around defenders with ease. Newcomer Cabore may not yet be the goal-scoring machine that he was in K.League last year (in fact, he’s has three so far – certainly not bad by any stretch), but he’s creating chances, making key plays, and pulling attention from other defenders, making him just as dangerous. Fellow arrival Hanyu, though he’ll miss the next game with an injury he sustained during the Verdy match, has also performed well and added depth to the lineup. Team elder statesman Yasayuki Konno leads the squad with four goals and is as dangerous as ever in the box, while Shingo Akamine has finally found his groove and pushed the attack.

Yet if any player could be considered to be emblematic of FC Tokyo’s success, it would be young phenom Youhei Otake. Raised through the Tokyo system, and easily spotted among the squad (as he’s a few centimeters shorter than most of his fellow teammates), his speed, passing ability, and pure passion for the game have energized the team and captivated the fans. His first J.League goal, less than 30 seconds after coming onto the field, was a perfect lob that the Kawasaki keeper had no chance of stopping that followed a swift dissection of the Kawasaki defense. Already being referred to by some fans as 神の子 – “Child of the Gods”, Otake will likely be the future face of the team.

Defensively, though the team’s goal differential is only +2, 2008’s defense is a vast improvement over last year’s, and Saturday’s game was as great an indication of that as any. Half a year after getting pounded 7:0 by Kawasaki, FC Tokyo held the Dolphins to two goals that came off of free kicks (the one troubling point on the squad), and neutralized Kawasaki strikers Chong and Juninho. A week earlier, Verdy striker Hulk found himself attacked on all sides for most of the game and was, save for his set-piece goal that was admittedly a beauty, a non-factor. A frequent lament of the team’s performance last year was that every time FC Tokyo would march up the field, they would soon be swarmed on all sides by defenders that seemed to materialize out of nowhere as though they were Agent Smith and his many replicas. These days, the shoe is on the other foot, and boy does it fit great.

There are still a few questions that face the team – the foremost in my opinion being can they stay fit. GK Shiota was helped off the field after Saturday’s game by trainers, and although he’s a tough SOB one can’t help but worry. MF Emerson has been out for several weeks now and his eventual return will only add depth to Tokyo’s attack. Other concerns include the team’s vulnerability to the free kick, their ability to consistently score (one can only hope that the offense clicked during the Kawasaki match and will continue to do so), and their strength against stronger squads. So far Tokyo’s wins have come against Albirex Niigata, Consadole Sapporo, Tokyo Verdy, and Kawasaki Frontale – not exactly the top teams in the league by anyone’ standards. Their one loss came against Yokohama F. Marinos in what was undoubtedly their worst performance, and the team has pulled draws against Vissel Kobe and a surprisingly resilient Kyoto Sanga FC.
All in all, they are winning games they are supposed to win, which is all well and good, but to reach first place the magicians on the squad had better dig deep into their hats and pull out some rabbits. This stretch of games will provide them the perfect opportunity to do so.

Round 8: 04.26 Shimizu S-Pulse vs. FC Tokyo at Nihondaira Stadium

Shimizu presents a dangerous matchup for FC Tokyo – while the team is undefeated in the Nabisco Cup group stage (including a win against FC Tokyo and a win and draw against Tokyo Verdy), in league play they have only 5 points to their name, hovering above the relegation zone along with Albirex Niigata. Their last game was a convincing draw against Yokohama F. Marinos that did nothing else if not prove that S-Pulse hasn’t lost its energy from last season. Where Shimizu has lacked so far this year is in the goal department – they’ve put five on the board in the first seven games of the year, tied for the lowest in the league with Albirex. If FC Tokyo can keep Shimizu off the board and their offense continues to click as it has in the last couple games, this should be a relatively easy three points.

Round 9: 04.29 FC Tokyo vs. Oita Trinita at Ajinomoto Stadium

Truth be told… I really have no idea how Oita is performing this season. Apparently they’re in the middle of the table. I think we may have lost to them last year, I could be wrong. In any case I don’t think predicting a Tokyo victory would be unreasonable, but someone correct me if I’m mistaken.

Round 10: 05.03 Omiya Ardija vs. FC Tokyo at NACK5 Stadium

In what could be the most intriguing match in this strech (if not the highest-profile; that honor goes to the Nagoya campaign), FC Tokyo travels north to take on the “other” Saitama team – a surprisingly resilient Omiya Ardija squad that has gone from a team that just barely avoided relegation to a mid-table contender. Omiya’s match on Sunday, a well-fought 0-0 draw away at Urawa, proved that though they lack depth, they do not lack skill or passion which, when concentrated enough, will beat an expensive roster such as the Reds’ 9 times out of 10.

Win, lose, or draw, this will be a fun and entertaining match – the visitor’s stand at NACK5 (which I’m referring to from now on as 靴箱競技場) sold out in about a day or two and FC Tokyo fans are scrambling to get tickets in the back stand as they come out to visit Squirrel Nation. Omiya, for its part, will open the sprint by playing home against Kashima and away at Gamba Osaka. Following their near-upset of Urawa, fans across J.League will surely be tuning into those two games and FC Tokyo would be advised to take notes as well.

Round 11: 05.06 FC Tokyo vs. Nagoya Grampus at Ajinomoto Stadium

Depending on Tokyo’s performance in the first three matches of the spring, this could be the match that defines how our season will play out. Nagoya is currently the strongest team in J1, with an unbeaten record that includes having won the last six games including wins against ladder-toppers Yokohama FM and Urawa. The team is high on new head coach Pixy’s dust but whether they will continue to be strong or flame out early like they did last year is yet to be seen. For what it’s worth, Nagoya’s three opponents before the Tokyo match include away at Verdy (which, given Verdy’s latest performances without Hulk, will likely be the equivalent of stealing candy from a small retarded child), home against Kawasaki, and away at Osaka.

Round 12: 05.10 FC Tokyo vs. Kashiwa Reysol at Ajinomoto Stadium

Just when you expect that most teams in J1 are about to fall over from exhaustion, one last Saturday game gets attached to the schedule to test the mettle of both the players and hardcore supporters alike. Kashima is currently hanging tough on the lower half of the table and could prove to be a reasonable threat to Tokyo – then again given that all 18 J1 teams will endure similar schedules, Kashiwa may be ready to collapse as well.

As far as my predictions – the “middle of the road” prediction is two wins (Shimizu and Oita), two draws (Omiya and Kashiwa), and one loss (Grampus). Optimistic would be 3 wins (Shimizu, Oita, Kashiwa) and one draw (Nagoya), with Omiya as a game that could net Tokyo either one point or three. Conservative would be one win (Shimizu) two draws (Oita, Kashiwa) and two losses (Omiya, Nagoya). I think if one is to predict based on the assumption that Tokyo is the “favorite” for all but the Nagoya match, the only team with the potential footing for an upset is Omiya.

So, to sum things up, this sprint should be good for FC Tokyo and at the end we’ll most likely be in the top half of the ladder.  I’m attending a concert in town tomorrow but I may try to find a sports bar that w