Soccer / J. League

Vissel Kobe showcase stars in U.S. before J. League opener

Kyodo

Vissel Kobe are set to wrap up a weather-interrupted preseason tour to southern California on Tuesday, which the J. League club hopes will jump-start its campaign for a title.

The star-studded club embarked on the tour on Jan. 24 and will return home after its final two scheduled matches were called off due to major storms.

Vissel are aiming for the top of the table after finishing last season in 10th despite adding Spanish icon Andres Iniesta to a roster already including former Germany star Lukas Podolski.

The pair, alongside latest marquee signing David Villa of Spain, were the center of attention at a game against Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew on Jan. 28.

In addition to his exploits as an international and in the Spanish top flight, Villa was New York City FC’s first-ever signing when the club joined the American first tier in 2015.

Fans at Irvine’s Championship Soccer Stadium lined up for autographs from the three stars after the match ended in a goalless draw. The trio also took the field in a 4-1 loss to Los Angeles FC on Thursday.

Vissel decided on California after looking at several destinations last summer. According to the club, it was the first time a J. League team had conducted a preseason tour in the United States

“It’s a welcome opportunity to tell (people in) the United States about Japanese soccer and the J. League,” said Akihito Sasaki, Vissel’s head of public relations.

Villa, who played with New York City FC until last season, said he was also happy to show off Kobe’s “brand” to his former MLS audience.

During the two weeks of camp, Vissel players appeared to enjoy their time in California. Iniesta and Podolski even took in a Los Angeles Lakers basketball game during a rest day last week.

Including the cost of sending the team to the United States, Vissel spent significantly more on their camp than last season.

“We are thinking about the environment and the (club’s) promotion so our players can prepare (for the season), and the results will follow,” Sasaki said.

Scheduled matches against MLS side Toronto FC on Saturday and second-tier Orange County SC on Tuesday were cancele.

Vissel begin their 2019 J. League campaign against Cerezo Osaka on Feb. 22 at Yanmar Stadium.