Soccer / J. League

S-Pulse spoil FC Tokyo’s 20th anniversary festivities

by Dan Orlowitz

Staff Writer

All that glitters was not gold for FC Tokyo, whose 20th anniversary celebrations in special gold uniforms were crashed by Shimizu S-Pulse in a 2-0 defeat at Ajinomoto Stadium on Saturday evening.

A steady stream of rain throughout the day threatened to put a damper on the various commemorative events, which included an exhibition match between retired legends including Amaral, the Brazilian striker whose 1994 arrival sparked the club’s evolution from Tokyo Gas FC to a J. League side as one of the founding members of the league’s second division in 1999.

While the weather may have discouraged indecisive fans making the trip, 33,789 fans did turn out to fill up the roof-covered portions of the stadium, many motivated by the chance to see their nostalgic heroes return to the pitch as well as a shirt giveaway that resulted in stands swathed in gold rather than traditional blue and red.

The limited-edition uniforms were not enough to break the home team’s winless streak, which now stands at eight games.

“I want to apologize to all of our fans for this result,” Tokyo manager Kenta Hasegawa said after the match. “The players didn’t fight hard enough and I take responsibility for that.

“Celebrating such an important anniversary at home and with so many club legends here we wanted to play with more feeling than we did today.”

While Tokyo entered the day in third place, on the pitch it instead resembled a team winless in its last seven games and struggling to regain momentum as the crucial home stretch of the season approaches. On paper it was the favorite against Shimizu, which began the weekend just four points above the relegation zone with 34 points.

“We try to focus on the performance rather than the table situation,” S-Pulse’s Swedish manager Jan Jönsson said after the match. “We played well but didn’t get anything from our game against Tokyo in Shimizu. I’ve talked about small mistakes that hurt us. I don’t talk about being unlucky, because we need to focus on performances. If you don’t give away small things, you maybe get the result you deserve.”

Both Lins and Diego Oliveira were aggressive in their runs toward the S-Pulse goal, but it was right back Sei Muroya who seemed to be wherever he was most needed. His biggest play of the first half came in the 23rd minute, when the recent Samurai Blue call-up was in exactly the right position to clear Douglas’ blistering header off the line.

As the rain intensified so did the Shimizu attack, which made increasingly regular incursions into the final third. Hasegawa’s decision to take Lins out for Takushi Yonemoto hinted at a desire to solidify the team’s midfield in the face of worsening weather, and S-Pulse responded with a narrow miss by leading scorer Shota Kaneko, whose grounder went through several players but ended a foot wide of the net.

When the visitors finally drew first blood it was on a swift counterattack in the 65th minute. Tokyo goalkeeper Akihiro Hayashi could do little more than parry Douglas’ mid-range shot in the slick conditions, and nothing could stop 22-year-old Koya Kitagawa as the striker rushed up at full speed to head the ball into the back of the net.

Moments after Yuji Rokutan denied Yojiro Takahagi’s potential equalizer in the 78th minute, Tokyo was dealt a death blow when Douglas drew a penalty on a foul by Jang Hyun-soo inside the box. The Brazilian’s aim from the spot was true, putting S-Pulse up 2-0 and sealing a crucial three points as the Shizuoka side earned some much-needed distance from the danger zone.

“I’m glad that even after we stepped (up) in the second half, we kept the clean sheet,” Jönsson said. “I’ve been a little annoyed, because we have to make sure we do the basic work and we’re not slipping up in the first and last part of the game. I think we did very well and deserved the three points.”

As Tokyo fans streamed into the concourse with stoppage time still in progress, even Shimizu supporters seemed almost equally disinterested in the result, holding up banners encouraging S-Pulse players to focus on next weekend’s all-important Shizuoka Derby against rivals Jubilo Iwata.

Elsewhere, Consadole Sapporo earned a dramatic 2-1 win against Sagan Tosu through Ken Tokura’s late penalty kick, while Yokohama F. Marinos thrashed Vegalta Sendai 5-2.

Kashima Antlers handed an Andres Iniesta-less Vissel Kobe a 5-0 loss at Noevir Stadium, and Sanfrecce Hiroshima lost 1-0 to Gamba Osaka.

In the final game of the night, Kawasaki Frontale won 2-1 at V-Varen Nagasaki to hop over Sanfrecce and into first place on goal difference.