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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…