SAITAMA - The score was enough for Urawa Reds to earn three points on Saturday, but the road there was hardly scenic.
Urawa labored to a 1-0 win over Vegalta Sendai on Saturday, despite spending roughly 40 minutes with a man advantage.
Although expected heavy rain for kickoff never materialized, there was a strong wind throughout. That plus the chilly conditions were enough to keep fans away from Saitama Stadium, with a reported attendance of just 28,904.
The first half was mostly tepid with few opportunities on goal from either side, with Urawa midfielder Takuya Aoki’s 25-meter bullet straight at Vegalta goalkeeper Daniel Schmidt the most exciting chance.
Schmidt, playing his second-to-last game before his scheduled departure for Belgium’s Sint-Truiden, did well to stop Takuya Iwanami’s header in the 36th minute.
But shortly before halftime the Japan international was caught in a one-on-one against veteran striker Shinzo Koroki, who blooped the ball over and in for the only goal of the match.
“He works hard in training, communicates with everyone during the game,” Reds manager Tsuyoshi Otsuki said. “What I want to say to him is ‘don’t get hurt.’ “
Yuki Muto did plenty of the work beforehand, drawing several Vegalta defenders before sending the ball forward to Koroki for a fantastic assist.
“In the first half we needed to press forward more on both sides of the ball,” said Vegalta manager Susumu Watanabe. “We thought that if we got to halftime scoreless we could restart in the second half, but it’s disappointing that we gave up a goal so close to the break.”
Urawa, which earned just one win and four points from a possible 21 in the months of May and June, seemed more likely to add a second goal after halftime when Vegalta midfielder Keiya Shiihashi was shown a second yellow card and send off in the 51st minute.
Instead, the Reds struggled mightily, moving the ball horizontally but failing to penetrate Vegalta’s defense for the rest of the match.
“I wanted us to score more, but our opponents didn’t give us a chance to do so,” reflected Otsuki. “It would have been great to attack without taking risks.”
The ACL quarterfinalist may have more concerns beyond its scoring struggles, as midfielder Ewerton was forced to exit in the 17th minute with an apparent shoulder injury.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Shimizu S-Pulse won 2-1 to end Vissel Kobe’s five-game unbeaten streak. Koya Kitagawa and Douglas scored for the hosts at IAI Stadium Nihondaira, while David Villa netted for the visitors.
At Mitsuzawa Stadium, Edigar Junio scored in the 74th minute to give Yokohama F. Marinos a 1-0 victory over Oita Trinita. At Hiroshima’s Edion Stadium, Sanfrecce Hiroshima managed a 1-1 draw with Cerezo Osaka after Patric cancelled out Kota Mizunuma’s early goal.
Hideto Suzuki’s first game in charge of Jubilo Iwata ended in a 2-0 loss away at Kashima Antlers, with the host capitalizing on a 29th-minute own goal and a remarkable striker from the near corner by defender Yuta Goike.