[Match Report] 04.06 FC Tokyo 0:1 (0:1) Nagoya Grampus (J1 W11)

Me?  Burned out?  Just a little.  Sorry for the late report but quite frankly besides having to get back into the groove of school again (at least I passed my Friday midterm, woohoo!) the game was such a downer that I wanted to space myself a bit before I came and wrote this up.

This was the third loss FC Tokyo has received this season, but the first in which I felt that the team did put through the best effort it could muster in going for the win.  This was not the second-half collapse of the Yokohama F. Marinos game, or the error-prone Shimizu campaign, but a losing effort by a team that held its ground or better with a Nagoya squad that, quite frankly, got off a little bit lucky.

One of the first things I noticed early on in the match was the size difference – Grampus’ players, including
lead striker Johnsen, are for lack of a better term goddamned huge.  Lots of players who were around 185cm and even a couple who were over 190cm.  FC Tokyo’s squad, on the other hand, has a bunch of players in the 175-180 range and a few in the 160s.  Early on in the game it seemed that Tokyo’s strategy of speed and agility got steamrolled by Nagoya’s strength and size, but as time passed Tokyo adjusted accordingly and began to dominate the midfield, with long stretches of time spent attacking the Nagoya goal.  Nagoya certainly did try to throw its weight around over the course of the match and got called on it – Tokyo took over twice as many free kicks, 26 to Nagoya’s 10.

The lone point in the game… was pretty brutal.  The ball bounced off Shiota’s outstretched fingers as he dove and slowly rolled into the net.  A rare misplay by the goalkeeper, and these things certainly happen, but it didn’t hurt any less.

On a positive note, the game saw the return of two players that have missed long stretches of time due to injury.  MF Naotake Hanyu returned to the starting lineup, putting in a solid effort before being replaced by Otake after halftime.  In the 76th minute, fan favorite MF Naohiro Ishikawa came onto the field after recovery from injury and quickly demonstrated that his speed and agility have not been lost.

Also in the second half, Yusuke Kondo came in as a replacement for Akamine about an hour in and repeatedly proved that his rental time spent in Kobe was wisely spent, driving to the goal several times and creating bold attacks.  Late in the game, Yusuke took a penalty kick after a hard foul on Cabore that unfortunately hit the top crossbar.  In injury time, he also provided Tokyo’s last attack, with two close-range shots that were batted away by the Nagoya keeper as time expired.  With his aggression, decision-making abilities, and decisive ability, Yusuke has proven himself in some ways to be the anti-Hirayama, and if my kit had #13 on the back I would be very concerned with my place in the Tokyo lineup.

Overall, the attack was strong, way stronger than Nagoya’s, but the goal just didn’t come through.  The fans seemed to recognize this and gave the players their due applause and saved a few extra cheers for a visibly dejected Yusuke who was consoled by Shiota as they walked into the locker rooms.

Yet, as I left the stadium, I was reminded of last year’s home loss to Nagoya, also 1-0.  That day, much like Tuesday, FC Tokyo was bullied around by a bigger and meaner Grampus squad.  This time, however, not only did the referees not let Grampus get away with it, but FC Tokyo adopted and fought back and overall was the clearly stronger squad.  It was a moral victory that bodes well for our hopes as the season goes on… but of course moral victories don’t translate to points in the standings, do they.  Oh well.

With Urawa and Kawasaki also winning their Tuesday matches, FC Tokyo fell into 4th place based on goal differential (or Goals For or something like that).  The next match is against Kashiwa Reysol, which has started the fifth month of the year with two victories in a row against JEF United Chiba and Vissel Kobe.  In order to wash out the bad taste of the Nagoya result Tokyo absolutely needs a win.  The fans have certainly taken notice – Tuesday’s attendance, at 30,000 and change (the most since October 28th of last year, and even that was only greater by about 200 people or so), was the highest gate count all season, although that it was a holiday certainly didn’t hurt.  FC Tokyo’s 5 hours at the top of the standings inspired more people to come to Ajinomoto, now the team has to deliver.

[Match Report] 05.03 Omiya Ardija 0:3 (0:2) FC Tokyo (J1 R10)

So I'll be totally honest and say that the last 96 hours could have been better, hence the very late update and a report that probably won't be as detailed as I'm trying to strive for.  Fortunately, the boys dominated in their away campaign at Omiya, knocking in three unopposed goals and keeping their own sheet clean.

I arrived at NACK5 Stadium a little before noon to find out that every FC Tokyo Fan who had a ticket was already in line, forcing me to walk about half a kilometer to find the end of the line.  Fortunately my usual seat partners had an extra seat available when I finally got inside.  The visitor's stands are divided into two tiers – the bottom are standing-only for the supporters and the top are supposedly for people to sit, but everyone wearing blue and red was on their feet for the entire game.  Though rain threatened throughout the morning, the game was played for the most part under clouds that at time thinned enough to let the sun shine through on a solid Tokyo victory.

Once the match started, Omiya tried early on to use its gaijin sledgehammer to break through Tokyo's defense to no avail.  Pedro Junior did little more than foul (and I believe at least one very impressive dive that I got on camera) and was replaced at halftime, while Denis Marquez, though constantly encouraged by the Squirrel Nation, seemed stymied at every turn, letting loose a volley of shots that were either wide of the goal or handled deftly by Shiota.

Tokyo's first-half goals came from Yohei Kajiyama on a glorious header in the 15th minute from a long pass that caught Omiya's defense completely off-guard, followed about 20 minutes later by a long bomb from GK Shiota that drew the Omiya goalkeeper all the way out to the edge of the box… to be there just as Cabore lobbed it past him.  Waiting to see if the ball would actually get into the net was the longest 3-4 seconds I've experienced in the stands in a long time, but it was certainly worthwhile.

In the second half, the substitution of Otake created a somewhat awkward moment when the player he replaced, Kurisawa, opted not to go to the center-line to tag in Otake but to go straight to the Tokyo bench.  However, the substitution took place before an FC Tokyo corner kick which Otake was waved down to take, so I'm not sure whether it was an intentional snub or not.  However, Kurisawa has been pulled for Otake in three out of the last four matches (the exception being the Shimizu game where Otake was named a starter) so there could be a bit of resentment there.

Two minutes later after what I believe was a particularly rough hit, manager Jofuku pulled out Cabore for problem child Sota Hirayama.  I've always been optimistic that despite his numerous motivation issues over the course of this year and the last our number 13 would turn it around, but his performance yesterday made it all too apparent that in terms of individual player performances he is the weak link on the squad.  Several times he had the ball with an open field save for maybe one or two defenders in front of him, and rather than an aggressive attack and a shot that might have gone into the net (or at least created pressure on the goalkeeper), Hirayama often opted to wait for support or held onto the ball for too long, resulting in several wasted opportunities.  One such turnover, in the 74th minute, was recovered by fan favorite Nagatomo and slammed into the goal for his first J.LEAGUE point.

After what appeared to be the clincher for FC Tokyo, Shingo Akamine was replaced by #32 Yusuke Kondo, part of last year's National Team squad.  Though he was on FC Tokyo's roster for three years from '03 to '05, it wasn't until '06 when he was transferred to Vissel Kobe that he found significant playing time, helping them in their promotion campaign in that year.  Fans in the visitor's stand were overjoyed to see him step onto the field once again wearing the blue and red kit, and even more so when both of the shots he took in the last 15 minutes of play came close to finding nylon.
The game ended with Tokyo in a place it has not found itself since 2005 – first in the standings with 20 points.  Urawa's draw with Vissel Kobe later in the evening would raise the Reds up to 20 points as well, and because of the goal differential tiebreaker FC Tokyo presently stands in second with a squad that looks more and more dangerous with each match.  The offense is finally clicking and is arguably as strong as it's been since the Amaral era. Cabore is racking up goals that many had hoped for when he was signed, and has a perfect companion at the wing in Akamine.  Midfielders Konno and Kajiyama's leadership is propelling the squad both on attack and defense, while Otake and Nagatomo have brought surprising weapons to the squad.  Once Emerson and Hanyu recover from their injuries (more on that below) and as Kondo (referred to by the fans as Yusuke so I'll probably use that from here on) starts to have a more active role on the field, FCT will have one of the deepest offensive lineups in J.League.

Defensively, while the team does have lingering issues to resolve, this is not the FC Tokyo that allowed 58 goals in 2007 (one of the worst tallies in the league).  Defenders Sahara, Nagatomo, Moniwa, and Tokunaga have all become adept at frustrating the opposing attackers, often stymieing breakaways and forcing turnovers before a shot is taken.  Corner kicks and free kicks have been the source of most of FC Tokyo's allowed goals, and even when the goal is successfully defended issues with clearing the ball continue to haunt the squad.

To officially end the Golden Week Sprint (although I'm not counting it as 'over' until Round 12 against Kashiwa on Saturday given the short period in=between matches), FCT plays the free-falling Nagoya Grampus at Ajinomoto Stadium.  Nagoya, which opened the season undefeated for 7 straight matches (the last six of them wins), has completely collapsed during the Golden Week Sprint with 2-1, 2-0, and 2-1 losses to Kawasaki, Verdy, and Gamba Osaka.

Errata

-After injuring his knee during a practice match versus Yokohama FC, Bruno Quattros was diagnosed with an inflamed tendon and will be out for approximately two weeks.

-Speaking of injuries, Naotake Hanyu is on the mend – after joking in his official blog that he would be considered a “salary thief” if he missed any more matches, he was shown in a photo on FC Tokyo's official website in a practice match against the FC Tokyo U-18 squad, which leads me to think that he'll probably be on the roster for the Kashiwa campaign on Saturday, or maybe even against Nagoya if the stars align correctly.

-Matsu over at The Rising Sun posted a great analysis of J.LEAGUE's poor refereeing, including an incident that apparently took place last Tuesday at the Oita match.

As far as photos, I'm just going to do a “Best Of GW Sprint” post after Saturday's match against Kashiwa for the benefit of my sanity.  Stay tuned for the Nagoya report!

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[Match Report] 04.29 FC Tokyo 1:0 (1:0) Oita Trinita (J1 R9)

The boys in red and blue quickly rebounded from their loss against Shimizu on Saturday with a dominating performance against Oita Trinita to remain undefeated at Ajinomoto Stadium.

Today was the first official Golden Week holiday, and as a result there were plenty of promotions to get families to bring their kids to the stadium.  Nets for shooting games were set up around the pitch, and it was officially Gegege no Kitaro Day, which meant that characters from the show were out and about.

In the stands, the FC Tokyo supporters are definitely in a transitional period – when everyone started to stand on their chairs after the player introductions but before You’ll Never Walk alone, there was a weird silence in the air, and someone commented on how it felt like it was the Verdy match.  Instead of the usual third chorus of YNWA the supporters jumped into one of the main anthems, which surprised me slightly.

On the pitch, while Oita started the game with a moderate attack, FC Tokyo struck the first and only blood of the match when roughly 15 minutes in Shingo Akamine converted a corner kick into a well-placed shot into the upper left corner of the goal.  The defenders did what they had to do and although Oita made several transgressions into Tokyo territory, all of their shots either went far wide or were a simple task for Shiota to recover.

While FCT found itself on the defensive occasionally during the match, the turning point seemed to be when they decided to break down Oita by grinding off 2-3 minutes of the clock with long passes back and forth near the end of the first half, slowing donw the pace of the game and disruting Oita’s offensive flow.

The second half was one of steady domination by Tokyo including several shots that found posts or crossbars but unfortunately didn’t make it into the net.  Cabore smashed through the Trinita defense on several occasions and DF Nagatomo appeared to be everywhere – making passes, drawing penalties, and swarming Oita attackers by himself.  Otake brought his youthful enthusiasm and deadly corners to the match but has yet to find his second goal.

As the seconds ticked down, Trinita appeared to become more and more desperate to stop the Tokyo attack, making risky tackles that almost every time resulted in fouls or yellows.  Near the end of the match, Oita sealed its fate when two of its players were handed red cards in the span of about five minutes – both for heinous tackles that while fortunately didn’t result in injury, were worthy of ejection (both players had already been shown yellow cards).  Oddly enough, over the course of the match the referees sided with FC Tokyo more often than not.  Players on the home team were shown no yellow cards through the entire match, a stunning first for the season if I recall correctly.

Overall, this was a match that Tokyo had to win (especially after the Shimizu campaign) and they performed well (though, naturally, another goal or two on the scoreboard wouldn’t have hurt).  Players are starting to become more daring on offense, particularly Cabore and Akamine; rather than going around the defenders they are attempting time and time again to go through them, more often than not creating scoring opportunities.  The defense, particularly Moniwa in strong form, managed to keep Shiota with little to do throughout the match except for the occasional goal kick, but as we all know a bored goalkeeper is a happy goalkeeper.

Nagatomo got the Hero Interview and actually momentary lost his composure when he was asked about his recent call-up to the National Team, recovering after a few seconds and repeatedly thanking the fans for their support.  He then gave the obligatory sha-sha-sha cheer to the supporters and was showered with “Nagatomo Tokyo!” and “Nagatomo Nihon!” cheers as he left for the locker room.

Overheard on the way to the station after the game: Yeah, the official attendance was 20,283… 20,000 of that was FC Tokyo fans, the rest was Oita. I do not believe that’s very far off from reality, quite frankly.

Match notes:

Starting Lineups

FC Tokyo – (GK) Shiota, (DF) Tokunaga, Moniwa, Sahara, Nagatomo, (MF) Kajiyama, Konno, Kanezawa, Kurisawa, (FW) Akamine, Cabore

Oita Trinita – (GW) Nishikawa, (DF) Fukaya, Morishige, Uemoto, (MF) Roberto, Edmilson, Suzuki, Nemoto, Fujita, (FW) Kanazaki, Matsuhashi

Substitutions

FC Tokyo – Otake (Kurisawa, 59′), Asari (Kanezawa, 72′), Kawaguchi (Cabore, ’89)

Oita Trinita – Maeda (Nemoto, 57′), Kobayashi (Edmilson, 70′), Ichihara (Uemoto, 83′)

Goals

FC Tokyo – Akamine (14′)

Yellow Cards

Oita Trinita – Morishige (31′), Uemoto (56′), Roberto (70′), Maeda (77′)

Red Cards

Oita Trinita – Morishige (86′), Maeda (89′)

I’ve got a big exam on Friday but if I have time before then I’ll try to get the pictures up, otherwise I might just do an epic photo post after the away match at Omiya.  Stay tuned!

[Report] 04.26 Shimizu S-Pulse 1:0 (1:0) FC Tokyo (J1 R8)

Though the sports bar I found in Ebisu was suitably packed, our long-distance support (plus the support of a decent number of FC Tokyo fans) wasn’t enough to help FC Tokyo recover from an error-filled first half as it fell to Shimizu 1:0.

The match began with rain falling at Nihondaira, and FC Tokyo, though clearly the stronger team, made mistake after mistake to its detriment. Missed passes, turnover after turnover, and a lackluster performance overall contributed to what would end up being a well-deserved win for S-Pulse. A wet playing surface contributed to a lot of slipping and sliding and both teams were heavy on the fouls, with 33 committed by Shimizu and 36 by FC Tokyo.

Possession problems in the first half meant that Shimizu would hold onto the ball for the majority of the time, and it was only due to some last-gasp defending (as well as a lucky bounce off the post) that kept the score tied. In the 45th minute of play, a well-aimed corner kick made it into the box and was subsequently headed in by Shimizu midfielder Aoyama, bouncing off Shiota’s outstretched palms into the upper netting.

FC Tokyo recovered and managed to put on a strong attack in the second half spurred on by Cabore and Akamine, never quite managing to score the equalizer much to their detriment. For every solid shot they got off on goal, at least two more wasted opportunities plagued the team, and at times their energy seemed completely sapped. Even Hirayama coming in for Otake in the last 15 minutes of play wasn’t enough to turn the tide, and as the seconds ticked down in stoppage time it seemed like the boys in blue and red had all but given up.

I would not describe this as a match that Shimizu deserved to win, but rather one that FC Tokyo deserved to lose. Their tendency to play a weak first half and a strong second half came through today, and it’s something they certainly need to improve on. They also need to stop giving up points at the half because it’s a huge momentum killer.

Here’s the match notes:

STARTING LINEUPS

FC Tokyo – (GK) Shiota, (DF) Tokunaga, Sahara, Fujiyama, Nagatomo, (MF) Asari, Kajiyama, Konno, Otake, (FW) Cabore, Akamine

Shimizu S-Pulse – (GK) Nishibe, (DF) Ichikawa, Aoyama, Takagi, Kodama (MF) Ito, Honda, Fujimoto, Fernandinho (FW) Hara, Nishizawa

SUBSTITUTIONS

FC Tokyo – Morimura (Asari 62′), Hirayama (Otake 77′)

Shimizu S-Pulse – Yashima (Nishizawa 70′), Okasaki (Fernandinho 79′), Iwamoto (Aoyama 89′)

GOALS

Shimizu S-Pulse – Aoyama (45′)

YELLOW CARDS

FC Tokyo – Kajiyama (29′), Tokunaga (37′)

Shimizu S-Pulse – Fujimoto (90′)

[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

J.League News: Frontale manager Sekizuka resigns

Kawasaki Frontale announced today that due to health problems that resulted in hospitalization beginning roughly two weeks ago, manager Takashi Sekizuka would be resigning from the team

According to the team's official statement, Sekizuka was hospitalized following complaints of discomfort after training on April 8th.  Tests found repeated occurrences of arrhythmia caused by excess stress and fatigue.  Sekizuka handed the full results of his examination to the team along with his resignation.  He will be replaced by coach Tsutomu Hatanaka.

Sekizuka has managed Frontale since 2004, leading them to the J2 championship in that year and to second place in the 2006 J1 campaign, as well as the quarterfinals of the 2007 ACL Championships.  Below is a photo of Sekizuka posing with former FC Tokyo manager Hiromi Hara to promote last year's Tamagawa Clasico.

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[Youtube/Photo Roundup] 04.19 vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Sadly the guy who usually posts highlight clips off the TV broadcast has disabled embedding of all of his videos, but there’s enough handheld stuff to make up for it. All photos are mine, all YouTube vids are their respective owners’.

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Kawasaki’s supporters out in force

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Tokyo’s supporters in high spirits.

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Hooray giant flag displays!

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

“Walk on… walk on… with hope in your hearts…”

Video of YNWA – the supporters actually started singing before the song started and we all looked a little silly trying to get back on track, but we ended strong!

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Nagatomo on the defense!

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Pressure on Kawasaki.

Cabore goal!

Otake goal!

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Kawasaki fans try to rally the troops.

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Otoko ni wa, jibun no sekai ga aru…

Konno goal!

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Juninho attacked from all sides.

(04.19.08) FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale

Victory!

Team bow and Otake’s curtain call to the supporters.

End of Otake’s curtain call and Akamine’s hero interview.

REPORT: 04.19 FC Tokyo 4:2 (2:2) Kawasaki Frontale (J1 Week 7)

Let’s get the TL;DR version out of the way…

FC Tokyo, if by some microscopic chance you’re paying attention to this little blog? that is how you win matches, and how you will continue to win matches.

On a day that started sunny, clouds threatened throughout the match but it didn’t start to rain until most of us began to leave the stadium. But a storm was brewing on the field as the 13th round of the Tamagawa Clasico was one to remember.

The boys in blue and red dominated the pitch almost from start – none of the mistakes we’ve seen in the past, or at least if they were made they were all done in the last few minutes when the match was all but decided. Tokyo dominated the midfield and kept constant pressure on Kawasaki to the point where it was only a matter of time before they would score – the question was when.

Kawasaki drew first blood with a set piece – these seem to be Tokyo’s weak point as of late (recall that Verdy’s one goal against Tokyo was from a free kick). Tokyo was unable to clear and Kashima foward Chong Tese kicked to the lower right post past Shiota. However, FCT quickly countered, and 6 minutes later Cabore slammed in the equalizer. Just a minute later, Frontale capitalized on a miscue near the Tokyo goal – an FC Tokyo player fell over Shiota as he was diving to make the save and as a result Shiota got caught outside of the box, leaving midfielder Taniguchi a practical open net. This would end up being the last major defensive mistake Tokyo would make for the rest of the game.

Right before halftime, Akamine came through with a fantastic goal to tie things up at 2 apiece, and the supporters behind the goal were rabid.

After halftime, Tokyo continued to pressure, but was unable to get a score. Then, in the 63rd minute, Otake came in for Tokunaga and in the same minute sliced through the Kawasaki defense and slammed in what would turn out to be the game winner. As you watched Otake slip past one defender after another, you knew 10 seconds before it happened it was going to be a goal, and what a glorious way to pop his cherry. 7 minutes later Konno pushed a fourth goal in with what appeared to be his knee and was almost an own-goal, essentially sealing Kawasaki’s fate with 20 minutes left in the match. Even the Kawasaki players seemed resigned to going back across the Tamagawa with no points by the 80th or so minutes, despite a few strong offensive pushes that tested Tokyo’s defense and kept Shiota busy. But, in the end, the melody of nemuranai machi rose into the night as FC Tokyo took home the win.

Game notes:

-This match was pretty rough – four yellow cards were given, and a couple were omitted, including a rough collision by Kawasaki GK Kawashima on defender Nagatomo in the second half. Much like in last year’s match, Kawasaki essentially attempted to bully FC Tokyo – except this time, FCT fought back and did so convincingly

-Juninho had a couple breakout moments where he wove past the first line of defense, but in the end he was contained in the same way Hulk was contained.

-Stupid mistakes were way down – like, insignificant compared to the B-Team effort that they put up against Jubilo and even smaller compared to Verdy. Better passing in coverage, fewer turnovers. A few give-and-go plays didn’t go as planned, but more did than didn’t. Additionally, according to the official website FC Tokyo took 8 shots and made 4 of them. I’m not sure whether I should be happy that they’re picking their opportunities or upset that they’re not taking more shots, but 4 is the most they’ve scored since last August against Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

-Attendance was 22,283 – roughly the same as for the Verdy match, which surprised me. I’m inclined to think that a number of Tokyo fans feared the rain and stayed home, and they missed out. Kawasaki’s supporters were loud and impressive – fat lot of good it did them in the end, but they’re probably the largest supporter group we’ve opposed so far this year, including Verdy.

-Defender Hideki Sahara faced his former squadmates on Kawasaki for the first time since joining FC Tokyo. He received a yellow card and plenty of cheers from the home crowd as well as a couple gate flags making note of his change of residence: Photo 1 Photo 2

-Akamine got the hero interview but Otake got summoned for the sha-sha-sha chant. He went right up to the front of the supporter’s section so I didn’t see anything but I expect it’ll show up on YouTube soon enough.

-Speaking of photos I did appear in the Match Day Program – they did not include my plug for the blog but they did fix my bungled Japanese, so one for two. I’ll scan it tonight or tomorrow when I upload my photos from the game.

Finally the match notes:

STARTING LINEUPS

FC Tokyo – (GK) Shiota, (DF) Tokunaga, Sahara, Fujiyama, Nagatomo, (MF) Asari, Kajiyama, Konno, Kurisawa, Akamine, (FW) Cabore

Kawasaki Frontale – (GK) Kawajima, (DF) Igawa, Terada, Ito, (MF) Mori, Nakamura, Taniguchi, Yamagishi, Ohashi, (FW) Chong, Juninho

SUBSTITUTIONS

FC Tokyo – Otake (Kurisawa 63′), Kawaguchi (Cabore 84′)

Kawasaki Frontale – Yabu (Ohashi, 63′), Kurotsu (Yamagishi, 74′), Kukino (Mori, 84′)

GOALS

FC Tokyo – Cabore (25′), Akamine (43′), Otake (63′), Konno (70′)

Kawasaki Frontale – Chong (19′), Taniguchi (26′)

YELLOW CARDS

FC Tokyo – Sahara (’19)

Kawasaki Frontale – Taniguchi (’31), Terada (’46), Mori (’48)

With today’s matches over, FC Tokyo finds itself in 3rd place in the standings – naturally this may (and likely will) change after tomorrow’s games, but things are looking up.  The next match is an away game against Jubilo – I won’t be there but I’m sure I’ll figure out some way to watch the game and get some sort of report up.

BREAKING: Hanyu Out for Two Weeks

ccording to a statement by the club, Naotake Hanyu was examined on Thursday at a hospital in Saitama prefecture.  He was found to have muscle bruising in his lower left triceps and will need approximately two weeks to recover (I'm not sure whether that's counting from the original date of the injury or from the examination).  This will put him out of the lineup for today's match against Kawasaki and furthermore cause Hanyu to miss the National Team training camp in Chiba beginning on Monday

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Preview: 04.19 FC Tokyo vs. Kawasaki Frontale (2008 J.LEAGUE Div. 1 Round 7)

I'm falling asleep at my keyboard so this will not be as in-depth and analytical as the Jubilo preview (and in fact I'll probably end up re-writing some of this in the morning). I'm still trying to find a comfortable pace at which I can write this blog, but I assume anyone reading this will bear with me.

Tomorrow's match marks the home leg of the Tamagawa Clasico between Kanto rivals FC Tokyo and Kawasaki Frontale. Gasheads are still smarting from last year's 7-0 home thrashing at the hands of the dolphins, a low point if ever there was one in the dismally mediocre 2007 season. Fortunately, it's a new season and a new team, perfect for the exorcism of demons of seasons past. FC Tokyo has 3 wins, 5 draws, and 4 losses all-time in the series.  Kawasaki currently sits in 10th place and is at risk of falling several spots with a loss.

So, let's go ahead with my predictions.

How FC Tokyo Can Win
Get the ball into the net. Cabore, Hanyu, and Otake have been instrumental in reviving the team's attack, and indeed they've had many more chances to score this year than they ever did last year. There is a difference, however, between a shot and a goal, and that can often be the difference between leaving the field with three, one, or no points. Even a shot their goalkeeper knocks away is better thana scrum in the box that the Kawasaki defenders clear to the sideline; the more pressure they put on the GK the better the chance is he'll make a mistake.

Stop Juninho. FCT managed to keep Verdy's Brazillian Brigade in check for most of the match last Saturday, but Juninho is arguably better than anyone on Verdy's squad and will give Otake and Nagatomo a run for their money. Although the 4-2-2-2 against Jubilo worked well in creating chances at goal, expect a more conservative 4-3-1-2 to adjust for Kawasaki's offense. To counter Juninho's speed, Bruno may get another start following his appearance against Jubilo.

Fewer turnovers. Far too many were committed against a Jubilo team that couldn't capitalize on them. Kawasaki, on the other hand, will be more than capable of making Tokyo regret its mistakes.

Hirayama must perform. Although fans on Wednesday night were appreciative of his performance, reaction on the blogosphere afterwards shows that #13 hasn't done enough to atone for his lack of effort earlier in the season. If Cabore isn't fit to play a full 90 minutes following his early exit on Wednesday, Hirayama needs to draw his line in the sand and come through with some big plays.

Wild Card

The weather in Tokyo since the other day has been, for lack of a better word, shit. The wind is blowing, it is raining, it is damp, it is cold, it is miserable. British fans attending the match will feel right at home. I've been told the rain is supposed to stop at 12PM (kickoff is at 4PM), but whether that turns out to be true is another matter.  The condition of the pitch could certainly affect play, and if it starts raining during the match all bets are off.

In Other News…

Speaking of #13, Sota Hirayama has been called up to the Japan National U-23 Olympic Team's training camp in Saitama next week after being left off of the squad for last month's match against Angola.  He'll be joined by fellow squadmate Youhei Kajiyama.

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