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[Match Report] End of the Road – Albirex 1:1 FC Tokyo

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!

Wrapping up…

As the season winds down to a close, we have stuff to look forward to (or not?) next season…

First, last week’s game against Vissel Kobe.  We won, 1-0.  Hiramatsu scored a fantastic header off of a Suzuki free kick in the 87th minute.  If that was all you saw of the game, congrats: you saw the relevant bit.

Due to several fortunate results, Tokyo is now in sole possession of 5th place heading into the last game of the season vs. Albirex Niigata.  A win, plus a Hiroshima draw or loss, would put Tokyo in 4th place.  Not only would there be a decent bump to the end-of-season prize we would get from being in the top 8 (5th place receives 40 million yen while 4th gets 60 mil.), but we would have a Chance In Hell of going to the ACL next season.

I’m going to repeat that.  Despite everything the team has been through we could still conceivably play in Asia.  IF we get 4th place, and IF Kashima, Kawasaki, or Osaka wins the Emperor’s Cup.  So, to start with, go Kyoto!

The Kobe match was also a day for farewells of various sorts.  For starters, it was the final home game of “The Last Legends of Tokyo Gas” – Satoru Asari (7) and Ryuji Fujiyama (8).  With a combined 31 years of service for FC Tokyo and Tokyo Gas, the two players were often immortalized in gateflags simply as 社員.  They were celebrated in a pre-game tifo:

Following the game the two players made tearful speeches to the home supporters.  While Asari is officially retiring and may continue on with the team as a coach, Fujiyama had previously expressed his desire to continue playing “until my body falls apart” and, in a stunning announcement in front of the home crowd, announced that he will be playing for J2 side Consadole Sapporo next season.

After the speeches, the two players made their way around the pitch:

Unfortunately, it appears that the game was also the last stand at Ajinomoto for Bruno Quadros, who will not be resigning with the squad.  I’m also seeing rumors that Hideki Sahara will be returning to Kawasaki Frontale.

In even less attractive news, I give you our 2010 uniforms:

The home kits are ugly as sin and I refuse to purchase one… what were they thinking with the ‘bib’ design? To be completely honest the photo of Nagatomo makes it look worse than it actually does due to the immense number of flashes going off at once.  That said it’s still a mediocre design and adidas should be ashamed.

I could grow to like the away kit, though.

In other bulletpoint-worthy news…

-We’re after a bunch of players, and none of it’s worth reporting on until we actually sign someone.

-The team has withdrawn from its annual Guam Camp due to the costs involved (roughly $1 million) and will instead train in Miyazaki Prefecture this winter.

-World Cup draws announced! Japan in the pot with Holland, Denmark, and Cameroon.  I say we have a fair shot.

Now, to get another hour or so of sleep before I go to El Loco for the match…

News Digest: Fujiyama, Ishikawa, Sold Out Games, and Nabisco Cup!

Player News:

-In the hopes that he can possibly return before the end of the season, Naohiro Ishikawa has been recieving rehabilitation treatment at the team’s Kodaira training facility.  The star midfielder has received countless letters of support including many from non-Tokyo supporters.  Nao is scheduled to have a followup checkup on the 28th and the team will release details of his injury that day.

-Tokyo veteran Ryuji Fujiyama, who has been with the team for 16 years (extending back to the Tokyo Gas era), will be released following the 2009 season.  The team has apparently offered Fujiyama a coaching position, but, in his words, “I intend to keep playing until my body falls apart.”

-Yuto Nagatomo rejoined the team in practice this week and is expected to start against Shimizu on Sunday.

-In the last week Touchuu (the FC Tokyo edition of Chunichi Sports) has ran articles claiming that Tatsuya Suzuki, Naotake Hanyu, and Sota Hirayama are all ready/willing to fill the goal-scoring gap left by Ishikawa.  Where were they all season…?

Ticket News:

It appears that FC Tokyo may play up to 4 consecutive sold out J.League games in the next month:

-Tomorrow’s match against Shimizu sold out as of Thursday (10/23)

-the Nabisco Cup Final has long been sold out

-The team announced earlier this week that the lower bowl of Ajinomoto has been sold out for the 11/8 matchup versus Urawa

-Visitor end tickets for the late-November tie against Chiba sold out within minutes upon going on sale Friday.

And this morning the ‘remaining’ tickets went on sale for the Nabisco Cup (pretty much all credit card-only); I nearly got a ticket but Visa fucked things up and so no SB ticket for me (which if one looks at the prices at scalper shops, I could have sold for enough profit to pay for tomorrow’s trip to Shimizu).  Me? Bitter.  Somewhat.  In fact very.  But see below.

Note that this doesn’t include the 11/11 Emperor’s Cup Game, which takes place on a Wednesday night in Nagasaki and will attract maybe a couple dozen Tokyo supporters.  Seriously, JFA, knock this neutral venue bullshit off.

Nabisco Cup News:

-J’s Goal is getting choreography fans pumped up with a 6-year retrospective of pre-game tifos.  Y’all know I love this shit.

-Dunno what LA12’s tifo display will be but ours (as in me and previous special reporter Andre) will be awesome.  Pics this week, hopefully!

-Design tickets are in the mail!  Here’s my haul:

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Original Design Ticket 4x, FC Tokyo ticket lottery allotment 2x, SOCIO allotment 1x.  These are all going for at least 6-7,000 yen each on the open market, but I am being a good supporter and giving them to friends at face value.  Because lord knows I’m immoral in every other way so I might as well make up for it 😉