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.