With less than a week to go until the March 5th kickoff at Ajinomoto stadium, let’s review what we’ve learned in the offseason.
1. Injuries Still Happen
Gonda’s pinkie separation will have him out for at least 3 weeks, while several other teammates (including Ishikawa, Nakamura, Pedro Junior, Kajiyama, and others) have been suffering from the niggling types of injuries that, while they might not show up in an official injury report, can keep them mysteriously out of practice or even worse the gameday lineup. Ishikawa is still struggling and hasn’t played in any training matches yet, but hopefully his fitness will return for the regular season. With the size and depth of Tokyo’s roster, we’d all like to hope that an injury or three won’t hurt the squad too much in terms of firepower… then again we need some firepower to begin with (see below).
2. The Boys of Summer
Although Tokyo didn’t call up any U-18 members to the top squad, look for a couple of the “new generation” to start making waves. Takumi Abe has gained favor with Hiyoshi Okuma and is an inside favorite to start at left back on Saturday, while Otake will probably get in more playing time as well. Hideto Takahashi could also get into the mix when Konno is off wearing the blue kit.
3. The Boys of Subbing
Just as important as our starting 11 are our reserves; unless we learn how to score early and often (see below) Tokyo may again need to mount late-stage offensive (or comebacks, as the case often was last year). Tatsuya Suzuki is, for better or for worse, always in the mix, but Tatsuya Yazawa and Uesato are also strong contenders to make regular appearances. Takamatsu I’m hesitant to pass judgment on because it appears as though even Okuma isn’t 100% sure who his starting forwards will be.
4. The Boys of Samba
For the first time in several years, FC Tokyo could have three Brazilians on the field. Cesar has impressed in the preseason with several goals and assists and has generally performed like the player we all hoped Ricardinho would be last year… I would even put him up there as a candidate for our top scorer. Roberto has been solid at volante and could earn a regular starting spot between Kajiyama’s repeated injuries and Yonemoto’s form trouble. Pedro Junior hasn’t turned quite as many heads this offseason but he should still do better than Matsushita.
5. We Got 99 Problems and Offensive Production Might Be 1
While the defense has more or less performed solidly, the same patterns that plagued Tokyo on offense – namely, an inability to score early – have once again emerged. Players are performing well individually, but the winning combination has yet to be unlocked. As an example, although the 6-2 win against Shimizu S-Pulse may sound impressive, in reality Tokyo was losing 1-2 until Shimizu put their reserves in. One may ask what it all means, and the answer is that it’s the preseason, so precisely in that realm between jack and shit… for now. Looking at our opponents (Tosu, Gifu, Toyama, Tochigi), if our goal difference isn’t +6-7 or better by the end of March I would perhaps consider ringing that particular alarm bell.
6. Toto, I Don’t Think We’re In J1 Anymore
Yesterday’s PSM against Thespa Kusatsu at Soy Sauce Stadium came with an extra dose of MSG-induced heartburn for our traveling supporters. An out-of-the-way stadium with 10,000 seats and a track, relatively few supporters, poor pitch condition, mediocre officiating… in many ways, this was as accurate a simulation of J2 as one could have imagined. No more pristine pitches or packed stands for a while… at least maybe until the Tokyo Derby.
7. Our Front Office Is Smarter Than Your Front Office…
With last week’s announcement that Yuto Nagatomo has officially been sold to Cesena (who are on track to sell him to Inter, although apparently he’s having a bit of a struggle in dealing with their asshole supporters and players in his current loan spell), FC Tokyo managed to pull off what no team in J.League has in the last couple years: get a decent chunk of money for an international transfer. While Kagawa got shipped off to Dortmund for a bag of magic beans and a song, and Okazaki’s controversy-plagued transfer to Stuttgart was more or less free, Cesena has paid Tokyo roughly 200 million yen (nearly $2.5 million, or 1.8 million euros, or 3.4 billion Lira. Thanks Google!) for the star left back. Now, Cesena’s going to make a whole lot more if and when they eventually sell Nagatomo to a bigger club so it’s not a total victory, but it’s still a lot better than anyone else did.
8. …Except When They’re Not
While there were reports that Nagatomo’s transfer money would be used to renovate the team’s locker room and training facilities, there’s word that one more player acquisition could be on the horizon as Australian back Jade North has been participating in team practices since the other day. With the max number of A-contracts already signed to the team one wonders how Mr. North, described by some sources as solid but unimpressive, could be shoehorned onto the team… notwithstanding the fact that his signing isn’t really necessary to begin with. Memo to the front office: Just because the money’s blowing a hole in your pocket doesn’t mean you have to spend it all immediately. Perhaps you could put it in a savings account with that new bank sponsor you got, invest in some band-aids for Kajiyama’s vagina.
Speaking of money, the new SOCIO cards come with built-in EDY electronic payment chips, and according to the explanations the team actually gets some cash back every time you use them to make a purchase. I wonder how much money the team could save by paying their players w/ EDY…
Anyway, stay tuned for more as we ramp up coverage for the soon-to-start J2 season! I’m joining Ben and Graham from On The Gas to record the second episode of Gas Talk this evening, and hopefully it’ll be up tomorrow. お楽しみに！