• Dan Orlowitz


One of the many intriguing storylines heading into the 2019 J. League season is how much progress Yokohama F. Marinos can make after a season that thrilled and frustrated in equal measure.

Former Socceroos head coach Ange Postecoglou had mixed success in his Japanese top flight debut — Yokohama reached the Levain Cup final but narrowly avoided the promotion-relegation playoff on goal difference.

In a league in which offense wins games but defense wins championships, F. Marinos could only provide one of the two, with 56 goals scored (tied for second best with Shimizu S-Pulse) and the same number allowed (third worst behind V-Varen Nagasaki and Nagoya Grampus).

At last week’s J. League Kickoff Conference, Postecoglou expressed confidence in a squad which experienced significant turnover during the offseason, including the shock departure of Ryosuke Yamanaka to Urawa Reds.

“Wherever I’ve been the first year is always challenging because we’re turning things upside down,” Postecoglou told The Japan Times. “This year we’ve got a bigger squad of players who can play our kind of football, and hopefully with that we get more consistency.

“Last year our best was very good and our worst was terrible, and now we’re bridging that gap to be more consistent and make our best even better.”

Asked about the team’s defensive struggles, the 53-year-old backed a holistic approach.

“I don’t look at it as a defensive problem; a lot of the time we gave up goals after butchering 10 chances we had (on the attack),” said Postecoglou. “It’s not about focusing on one part of the field, it’s about progressing what we’re doing as a whole. The challenge this year is to show we’ve taken that to another level.”

One player Postecoglou will be looking to for a big season is defender Theerathon, who is expected to fill Yamanaka’s role at left back. The Thailand international, who started regularly last year at Vissel Kobe, has quickly become a believer in his new coach’s philosophy.

“F. Marinos play very interesting soccer, there’s only two or three teams in the league that play so aggressively,” Theerathon told The Japan Times. “I’m happy to play that sort of soccer, and Ange is a very serious manager who doesn’t let any mistakes slip past him. If you get something wrong you fix it right then, and I’ve learned a lot under him.”

Late reinforcements

Much to the chagrin of the publishers behind the annual meikan (player guides), several clubs leave it until late — sometimes very late — to make their final key signings before the start of the season.

Tuesday saw FC Tokyo announce the arrival of Brazilian striker Jael on a full transfer from Gremio. The 30-year-old attacker’s career has spanned the globe, including stints in Sweden, South Korea and China.

Gamba Osaka has its own big move in the works, with Japanese and Spanish media reporting that Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s side has signed former Spain U-19 winger David Concha on loan from Real Sociedad for the 2019 season. The 22-year-old would add to the lengthening list of Spaniards with Barcelona connections joining the J. League, having spent the 2017-18 season on loan with Barca B.

J2 sides join Levain Cup

Kashiwa Reysol and V-Varen Nagasaki’s schedules are filling up quickly.

The two second-division clubs will compete in this year’s Levain Cup after Kashima Antlers and Sanfrecce Hiroshima qualified for the AFC Champions League group stage on Tuesday night.

Reysol, the 2013 champions, will join FC Tokyo, Sagan Tosu, and Vegalta Sendai in Group B, while Nagasaki will contest Group A with Consadole Sapporo, F. Marinos, and Shonan Bellmare.

This means that both clubs will play a minimum of 48 matches this season, with all six group stage games taking place on Wednesday nights in March, April and May.

Two clubs pass first entry test

Tuesday’s meeting of the J. League’s board of directors saw Japan Football League members Tegevajaro Mizayaki and ReinMeer Aomori given “100 Year Plan Club” status, a prerequisite for any club wishing to join the J. League in the future.

Tegevajaro finished 12th in its debut JFL season last year, while ReinMeer reached 10th in the 16th-team amateur competition.

In order for either club to earn admission to the J. League’s third division, they will have to qualify for a J3 club license, meet attendance quotas and finish in the top four of the JFL, which opens for business on March 17.

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