Tag Archives: yuto nagatomo

城服東京、楽しい東京、俺とお前は夢の中!

Man, I really have to do better at this regular blogging thing, but that’s what happens in JLPT season.

In any case, the regular season is over.  In line with predictions I made early on in the season on the RSN forums, FC Tokyo did make the top 6 – in fact, the team ended in 6th place, when it could have reached as high as 4th were it not for a tragic fall-from-ahead loss at Chiba to end the season.  JEF Chiba’s shock win saved the team from relegation, meaning that we’ve been the dramatic foil for relegation-threatened teams for two years in a row now.  Which, I’ll be honest, is kinda amusing in a “if I didn’t laugh I’d be crying” way.  Hell, I’m from Philadelphia, who knows more about abject futility than us?

A week earlier, the final home game of the year was held at Ajinomoto Stadium; a match against Albirex Niigata that ended with an exhilerating goal as time was running out.  In stark contrast to 2007’s home finale, which resembled the atmosphere of a funeral, this year’s home finale had a palpable sense of celebration attached.  Manager Hiroshi Jofuku has gotten FCT to play almost at its full potential, and with the nucleus of the team largely expected to return next season, the eyes of the J.League world will undoubtedly be on Ajinomoto Stadium.  Though the team has some weaknesses it needs to overcome, nobody can dispute that FC Tokyo will be a contender for the championship in 2009.

What needs to change? That depends on what aspects of the squad you choose to look at.  By virtue of its solid youth program, FCT doesn’t need transfers as desperately as other teams in the league, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t needed.  The most perplexing issue is at forward – should Cabore have another foreign strongman – either South American or European – to give him some relief and help the team in the opposing goal area, where they seem to get caught up frequently?  Akamine, despite taking half as many shots as Cabore, was FCT’s leading goal-scorer of the year and one of the top 2 or 3 Japanese goal-scorers this season.  The odd man out seems to be Sota Hirayama, who showed flashes of brilliance this season but has yet to show enough consistency to earn a regular starting role.

One lineup change that will be affecting all squads is the addition of a forth foreign player slot – while teams were previously limited to having 3 foreign players on their roster, the fourth has to come from an ACL country.  Most teams will probably go to Korea, which has sent its fair share of players to Japan, or to Australia, which seems to have one of the best performances aside from Japanese teams in the ACL.

In any case, the season is not over yet – this Saturday (the 20th) FCT plays Shimizu S-Pulse for the billionth (actually 5th) time this year up in Sendai in an Emperors Cup quarterfinal match.  The team hasn’t had very good luck against Shimizu (0-1-3 this year), but with the fourth and final ACL bid still up for grabs, one would be foolish to take anything for granted.  Amazing J indeed.

In player news, Yuto Nagatomo has been nominated as both Outstanding Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year by J.League, honors well-deserved.  Here’s hoping he takes some silverware home!

In other site news, I’ve been asked by Gora over at JapaneseSoccer.net, an English-language J.League news blog that’s now in beta, to write a special piece about the deteriorating situation at Tokyo Verdy.  For those of you who haven’t been following, Verdy has not only been demoted to J2 but their supporters are now declaring open rebellion on the board of directors.  This includes urging a season ticket boycott, an act virtually unheard of in Japan.  Part 1 of my essay is up now, with parts 2 and 3 to follow.  I assume by the time anyone reads this Gora will have the formatting fixed, so stay tuned.

[Match Report] 05.03 Omiya Ardija 0:3 (0:2) FC Tokyo (J1 R10)

So I'll be totally honest and say that the last 96 hours could have been better, hence the very late update and a report that probably won't be as detailed as I'm trying to strive for.  Fortunately, the boys dominated in their away campaign at Omiya, knocking in three unopposed goals and keeping their own sheet clean.

I arrived at NACK5 Stadium a little before noon to find out that every FC Tokyo Fan who had a ticket was already in line, forcing me to walk about half a kilometer to find the end of the line.  Fortunately my usual seat partners had an extra seat available when I finally got inside.  The visitor's stands are divided into two tiers – the bottom are standing-only for the supporters and the top are supposedly for people to sit, but everyone wearing blue and red was on their feet for the entire game.  Though rain threatened throughout the morning, the game was played for the most part under clouds that at time thinned enough to let the sun shine through on a solid Tokyo victory.

Once the match started, Omiya tried early on to use its gaijin sledgehammer to break through Tokyo's defense to no avail.  Pedro Junior did little more than foul (and I believe at least one very impressive dive that I got on camera) and was replaced at halftime, while Denis Marquez, though constantly encouraged by the Squirrel Nation, seemed stymied at every turn, letting loose a volley of shots that were either wide of the goal or handled deftly by Shiota.

Tokyo's first-half goals came from Yohei Kajiyama on a glorious header in the 15th minute from a long pass that caught Omiya's defense completely off-guard, followed about 20 minutes later by a long bomb from GK Shiota that drew the Omiya goalkeeper all the way out to the edge of the box… to be there just as Cabore lobbed it past him.  Waiting to see if the ball would actually get into the net was the longest 3-4 seconds I've experienced in the stands in a long time, but it was certainly worthwhile.

In the second half, the substitution of Otake created a somewhat awkward moment when the player he replaced, Kurisawa, opted not to go to the center-line to tag in Otake but to go straight to the Tokyo bench.  However, the substitution took place before an FC Tokyo corner kick which Otake was waved down to take, so I'm not sure whether it was an intentional snub or not.  However, Kurisawa has been pulled for Otake in three out of the last four matches (the exception being the Shimizu game where Otake was named a starter) so there could be a bit of resentment there.

Two minutes later after what I believe was a particularly rough hit, manager Jofuku pulled out Cabore for problem child Sota Hirayama.  I've always been optimistic that despite his numerous motivation issues over the course of this year and the last our number 13 would turn it around, but his performance yesterday made it all too apparent that in terms of individual player performances he is the weak link on the squad.  Several times he had the ball with an open field save for maybe one or two defenders in front of him, and rather than an aggressive attack and a shot that might have gone into the net (or at least created pressure on the goalkeeper), Hirayama often opted to wait for support or held onto the ball for too long, resulting in several wasted opportunities.  One such turnover, in the 74th minute, was recovered by fan favorite Nagatomo and slammed into the goal for his first J.LEAGUE point.

After what appeared to be the clincher for FC Tokyo, Shingo Akamine was replaced by #32 Yusuke Kondo, part of last year's National Team squad.  Though he was on FC Tokyo's roster for three years from '03 to '05, it wasn't until '06 when he was transferred to Vissel Kobe that he found significant playing time, helping them in their promotion campaign in that year.  Fans in the visitor's stand were overjoyed to see him step onto the field once again wearing the blue and red kit, and even more so when both of the shots he took in the last 15 minutes of play came close to finding nylon.
The game ended with Tokyo in a place it has not found itself since 2005 – first in the standings with 20 points.  Urawa's draw with Vissel Kobe later in the evening would raise the Reds up to 20 points as well, and because of the goal differential tiebreaker FC Tokyo presently stands in second with a squad that looks more and more dangerous with each match.  The offense is finally clicking and is arguably as strong as it's been since the Amaral era. Cabore is racking up goals that many had hoped for when he was signed, and has a perfect companion at the wing in Akamine.  Midfielders Konno and Kajiyama's leadership is propelling the squad both on attack and defense, while Otake and Nagatomo have brought surprising weapons to the squad.  Once Emerson and Hanyu recover from their injuries (more on that below) and as Kondo (referred to by the fans as Yusuke so I'll probably use that from here on) starts to have a more active role on the field, FCT will have one of the deepest offensive lineups in J.League.

Defensively, while the team does have lingering issues to resolve, this is not the FC Tokyo that allowed 58 goals in 2007 (one of the worst tallies in the league).  Defenders Sahara, Nagatomo, Moniwa, and Tokunaga have all become adept at frustrating the opposing attackers, often stymieing breakaways and forcing turnovers before a shot is taken.  Corner kicks and free kicks have been the source of most of FC Tokyo's allowed goals, and even when the goal is successfully defended issues with clearing the ball continue to haunt the squad.

To officially end the Golden Week Sprint (although I'm not counting it as 'over' until Round 12 against Kashiwa on Saturday given the short period in=between matches), FCT plays the free-falling Nagoya Grampus at Ajinomoto Stadium.  Nagoya, which opened the season undefeated for 7 straight matches (the last six of them wins), has completely collapsed during the Golden Week Sprint with 2-1, 2-0, and 2-1 losses to Kawasaki, Verdy, and Gamba Osaka.

Errata

-After injuring his knee during a practice match versus Yokohama FC, Bruno Quattros was diagnosed with an inflamed tendon and will be out for approximately two weeks.

-Speaking of injuries, Naotake Hanyu is on the mend – after joking in his official blog that he would be considered a “salary thief” if he missed any more matches, he was shown in a photo on FC Tokyo's official website in a practice match against the FC Tokyo U-18 squad, which leads me to think that he'll probably be on the roster for the Kashiwa campaign on Saturday, or maybe even against Nagoya if the stars align correctly.

-Matsu over at The Rising Sun posted a great analysis of J.LEAGUE's poor refereeing, including an incident that apparently took place last Tuesday at the Oita match.

As far as photos, I'm just going to do a “Best Of GW Sprint” post after Saturday's match against Kashiwa for the benefit of my sanity.  Stay tuned for the Nagoya report!

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[Match Report] 04.29 FC Tokyo 1:0 (1:0) Oita Trinita (J1 R9)

The boys in red and blue quickly rebounded from their loss against Shimizu on Saturday with a dominating performance against Oita Trinita to remain undefeated at Ajinomoto Stadium.

Today was the first official Golden Week holiday, and as a result there were plenty of promotions to get families to bring their kids to the stadium.  Nets for shooting games were set up around the pitch, and it was officially Gegege no Kitaro Day, which meant that characters from the show were out and about.

In the stands, the FC Tokyo supporters are definitely in a transitional period – when everyone started to stand on their chairs after the player introductions but before You’ll Never Walk alone, there was a weird silence in the air, and someone commented on how it felt like it was the Verdy match.  Instead of the usual third chorus of YNWA the supporters jumped into one of the main anthems, which surprised me slightly.

On the pitch, while Oita started the game with a moderate attack, FC Tokyo struck the first and only blood of the match when roughly 15 minutes in Shingo Akamine converted a corner kick into a well-placed shot into the upper left corner of the goal.  The defenders did what they had to do and although Oita made several transgressions into Tokyo territory, all of their shots either went far wide or were a simple task for Shiota to recover.

While FCT found itself on the defensive occasionally during the match, the turning point seemed to be when they decided to break down Oita by grinding off 2-3 minutes of the clock with long passes back and forth near the end of the first half, slowing donw the pace of the game and disruting Oita’s offensive flow.

The second half was one of steady domination by Tokyo including several shots that found posts or crossbars but unfortunately didn’t make it into the net.  Cabore smashed through the Trinita defense on several occasions and DF Nagatomo appeared to be everywhere – making passes, drawing penalties, and swarming Oita attackers by himself.  Otake brought his youthful enthusiasm and deadly corners to the match but has yet to find his second goal.

As the seconds ticked down, Trinita appeared to become more and more desperate to stop the Tokyo attack, making risky tackles that almost every time resulted in fouls or yellows.  Near the end of the match, Oita sealed its fate when two of its players were handed red cards in the span of about five minutes – both for heinous tackles that while fortunately didn’t result in injury, were worthy of ejection (both players had already been shown yellow cards).  Oddly enough, over the course of the match the referees sided with FC Tokyo more often than not.  Players on the home team were shown no yellow cards through the entire match, a stunning first for the season if I recall correctly.

Overall, this was a match that Tokyo had to win (especially after the Shimizu campaign) and they performed well (though, naturally, another goal or two on the scoreboard wouldn’t have hurt).  Players are starting to become more daring on offense, particularly Cabore and Akamine; rather than going around the defenders they are attempting time and time again to go through them, more often than not creating scoring opportunities.  The defense, particularly Moniwa in strong form, managed to keep Shiota with little to do throughout the match except for the occasional goal kick, but as we all know a bored goalkeeper is a happy goalkeeper.

Nagatomo got the Hero Interview and actually momentary lost his composure when he was asked about his recent call-up to the National Team, recovering after a few seconds and repeatedly thanking the fans for their support.  He then gave the obligatory sha-sha-sha cheer to the supporters and was showered with “Nagatomo Tokyo!” and “Nagatomo Nihon!” cheers as he left for the locker room.

Overheard on the way to the station after the game: Yeah, the official attendance was 20,283… 20,000 of that was FC Tokyo fans, the rest was Oita. I do not believe that’s very far off from reality, quite frankly.

Match notes:

Starting Lineups

FC Tokyo – (GK) Shiota, (DF) Tokunaga, Moniwa, Sahara, Nagatomo, (MF) Kajiyama, Konno, Kanezawa, Kurisawa, (FW) Akamine, Cabore

Oita Trinita – (GW) Nishikawa, (DF) Fukaya, Morishige, Uemoto, (MF) Roberto, Edmilson, Suzuki, Nemoto, Fujita, (FW) Kanazaki, Matsuhashi

Substitutions

FC Tokyo – Otake (Kurisawa, 59′), Asari (Kanezawa, 72′), Kawaguchi (Cabore, ’89)

Oita Trinita – Maeda (Nemoto, 57′), Kobayashi (Edmilson, 70′), Ichihara (Uemoto, 83′)

Goals

FC Tokyo – Akamine (14′)

Yellow Cards

Oita Trinita – Morishige (31′), Uemoto (56′), Roberto (70′), Maeda (77′)

Red Cards

Oita Trinita – Morishige (86′), Maeda (89′)

I’ve got a big exam on Friday but if I have time before then I’ll try to get the pictures up, otherwise I might just do an epic photo post after the away match at Omiya.  Stay tuned!

Four FC Tokyo players called up to National Team

Reports coming in that FC Tokyo defenders Yuto Nagatomo and Yuhei Tokunaga as well as midfielders Yasuyuki Konno and Naotake Hanyu have been summoned to the national team's training camp in Chiba prefecture from April 21st to April 23rd. This will be Nagatomo's first time training as a member of the national team. His statement:

To have been selected for the National Team's training camp is an honor. It's because of everyone's support that I am where I am now, and I'm full of gratitude. I look forward to demonstrating my skills at the training camp!

Congratulations to Nagatomo for his first shot at donning the blue kit!

Also as a bonus video, here's one of the ads the SkyPerfectTV has been running to promote Saturday's Tamagawa Classico match against Kawasaki Frontale. I won't lie, it's… pretty inane, but here you go anyway:

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