Tag Archives: golden week sprint

[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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[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′)