The 2009 J.League Division 1 season came to a close not with a bang, but with a rain-soaked whimper at Big Swan Stadium in Niigata.
Tokyo took an early lead off of a superb goal by Hokuto Nakamura in the 12th minute and proceeded to defend and attack with valor for much of the rest of the game. Sota Hirayama in particular had several close chances and anyone watching the game could see the anguish in his face as each time he came up just short.
Unfortunately, a gift of 3 points to end the season was not meant to be as Niigata equalized in the closing seconds with a header by retiring (?) player Naoto Matsuo off, you guessed it, a corner kick. Gonda had no chance and will have to be content with tying the J.League shutout record at 15 matches.
The 2,800 (!) Tokyo fans that made the trip to Niigata were fortunate enough to see both Fujiyama and Asari take the field for the last time; Fujiyama was substituted for Hanyu late in the game and wore the captain’s mark while Asari replaced Suzuki following the equalizer goal. While it may have been hard to tell at first sight if it was tears or rain streaming down Asari’s face following the game, it would seem that many Tokyo fans could have used an umbrella as well, so to speak.
With the draw (combined with a Shimizu draw and Urawa’s loss), FC Tokyo ends the season in 5th place. This is the team’s best finish of the one-stage era (2005~) and is an improvement of one place over last year. For accomplishing this, the team will receive from J.League 40 million yen, or roughly $440,000US.
I was going to do a final “summing up the season” post here but I’m seriously lacking the energy at the moment. Many thanks are owed and they will all be written out in time, I’m sure. In the meantime a hearty otsukare to everyone out there in the blogosphere in the stands, and on the field!
Tomorrow's match against Yokohama FM will be crucial for FC Tokyo as it begins the next phase of the Summer Counterattack. Currently 4 points out of an ACL spot and 15 from the top, Tokyo needs to buckle down and put together another long chain of victories after its recent stumbles.
Unfortunately, tomorrow's game will see a drastically altered lineup due to a variety of circumstances:
–Yuto Nagatomo underwent an appendectomy on August 3rd; although he's recovering and participating in team practices he does not yet feel ready to start and the team is probably looking to have him return in time for Kashima next Sunday.
–Yohei Kajiyama recived his 4th yellow card of the season in the Kawasaki match and will sit Sunday out.
–Naohiro Ishikawa, in what is certainly the most upsetting news for the team injured his calf during practice earlier in the week and will sit the game out.
–Bruno Quadros flew back from Brazil on Friday, having returned there last week to be with his wife while she underwent surgery. As a result of jet lag and not having practiced this week he will likely not be a part of the lineup. %%anc%%
How will Jofuku manage with this temporarily dire situation? His lineup will surely be a test of Tokyo's roster depth, and fortunately it appears that there are plenty of players to fill the various gaps.
On defense, Nagatomo's role could be filled by Kenta Mukuhara, while Bruno's position could be taken by Teriyuki Moniwa or Hideki Sahara, neither of whom have not played in several months.
The second line is somewhat more strained; El Golazo predicts that Ishikawa's position will be covered by Soutan Tanabe, while Kajiyama will be relieved by veteran Jo Kanazawa. Yet Jofuku has two more trump cards in the form of Yohei Otake and Hokuto Nakamura, both of whom have returned from injury and are regular participants in team practices.
With a cool breeze blowing in from the bay, the weather was perfect at Nissan Stadium as FC Tokyo traveled to take on Yokohama F. Marinos in a Saturday-night clash.
With Cabore and Ishikawa out with injury, Jofuku opted to put Akamine up front with FC Tokyo’s resident monk, the newly-skinheaded Sota Hirayama. At midfield were regulars Kajiyama and Hanyu along with Yonemoto and Suzuki, and on defense was another slight switch; Nagatomo started on the right side instead of his usual left while Bruno and Konno held ground in the center.
Hirayama seemed intent to prove his seemingly newfound devotion to higher play, racing to the ball and fighting for several headers in the first half. Both teams struggled to find their rhythm but it seemed that Tokyo had something resembling offensive control for most of the first half. While Gonda had no problem with the few shots that did come his way, he somewhat disconcertingly seemed a bit unsure of himself when it came to clearing, at times taking several seconds longer to consider where to punt the ball than anyone behind the goal was comfortable with.
The second half started with a Tokyo attack stifled by dodging officiating – with the line judge pointing adamantly towards the corner indicating that Tokyo deserved a corner kick, the referee ignored the protest of the players as he urged Marinos goalkeeper Hiroki Ikura to take the goal kick, stifling Tokyo’s momentum.
5 minutes into the second half, Jofuku made the call everyone was anticipating as he substituted Hokuto Nakamura for an injured Yohei Kajiyama. Following a longer than expected recovery from an injury, this was Nakamura’s first appearance in an FC Tokyo uniform as well as his first J.League game in roughly two and a half years (when Avispa Fukuoka lost the 2006 promotion/division series to Vissel Kobe). Both the fans and the team (particularly Nakamura’s former teammate Hirayama) seemed to gain a second wind as Tokyo again pressed on with the attack.
10 minutes later, a Tokyo corner kick set the stage for the most dramatic score all season. The ball sailed over the heads of three players and seemingly landed at the feet of Hirayama in the penalty box, who somehow got it to Nakamura, who blasted in a shot from the top of the box that kissed the left post and went in for the score. Matsu over at the Rising Sun claims that Hirayama, in a rare display of teamwork, passed the ball to Nakamura as opposed to taking a shot for himself and missing wide like he always does. Perhaps I’m underestimating the average pro player’s level of self-awareness in that sort of situation, but I’m not entirely convinced that Hirayama’s actions were anything but reflex and nerves. In any case, he did have the self-awareness necessary to Get The Hell Out Of The Waywhen Nakamura took his shot, and that’s good enough for me.
But don’t take my word for it, here’s the instant replay:
Tokyo continued to press the attack for the next 20 minutes or so, including a couple great chances that were thwarted either by solid goalkeeping by Iwata or hesitancy by the Tokyo strikers, particularly Hanyu on one agonizing sequence.
Late in the match, FCT seemed to tire and Yokohama countered one last time, culminating in a superb display of reflexes by Gonda. From then on it was all about clock-killing and Tokyo eventually took a win and three points, ending the weekend in 9th place.
“My old high school teammate (MF 17) Shingo Hyogo is on F. Marinos, so there was certainly a feeling of not wanting to lose. I came into the game as a somewhat forward position so I definitely wanted to score. I’m very happy that I got the goal and I’m incredibly pleased that we won due to my goal. From now on my target is to be able to play from the beginning of the match.” ~ Hokuto Nakamura
“We haven’t been playing winning football in the last few matches so both the players and myself considered today’s game a must-win and that’s how they comported themselves on the pitch. Through the first 10 games we gave up the most goals in J.League, through the next 10 games I want us to give up the fewest. To accomplish that won’t just take improving our defense, but also extending our posession time and finishing our attack.
“Thanks to Nakamura’s shot we were able to take home three points and as a team we’re certainly thankful for that, but if you look at his ability we’d like to see him get a 2nd goal as well. His defense and his physical strength still need improvement so I don’t want him to feel satisfied yet.” ~ Hiroshi Jofuku
FCT reported today that MF Hokuto Nakamura, one of this season’s biggest new acquisitions, suffered a injury to the cartilage in his left knee in Wednesday’s practice match against Chuo University. He’s expected to be out of the lineup for two to three weeks, so he should be back on the field in mid-March, about the time of the first Nabisco Cup matches.