Kawasaki Frontale fans arrived at Todoroki Stadium on Saturday hoping not only to see their team rebound after their first loss of the season, but also to welcome back a club legend after a long recovery from injury.
They were happy to do both, applauding equally loudly for Reo Hatate’s brace and Kengo Nakamura’s return to the pitch from ACL surgery during the team’s 5-0 win over Shimizu S-Pulse.
Frontale came into the game stinging after its 10-game winning streak was snapped by Nagoya Grampus last Sunday, with manager Toru Oniki making several changes to his squad.
“We’ve had some things to reflect on from the last two games,” Oniki said. “We had a lot of new players in the squad but the whole team played well.”
Kyohei Noborizato nearly opened up the game with his seventh-minute effort from the left side of the field that clanged off the post and back into play. But the first goal instead went to Reo Hatate, who took advantage of a woeful defensive miscue by the visitors to send a low grounder that bounced its way past S-Pulse goalkeeper Takuo Okubo.
“Some of the goals we conceded were very soft; you can’t give a good team like that those chances and we were punished,” S-Pulse manager Peter Cklamovski said. “They outplayed us and we have to accept that, cop it on the chin, and make sure we learn from it and get better for next time.”
Shimizu held on to avoid a second goal surrendered before the end of the first half and even mounted a couple challenges on the Frontale goal, although the home side went into halftime after failing to capitalize on a sequence of three corner kicks.
Improved play from Okubo inevitably wasn’t enough to stop the Kawasaki onslaught, and Leandro Damiao made it 2-0 in the 52nd minute when he easily slotted home a rebound inside the box.
The Brazilian striker celebrated by crossing his arms in tribute to actor Chadwick Boseman, the actor known for his iconic portrayal of Marvel superhero Black Panther whose death from colon cancer was announced on Friday.
Hatate netted his second of the day from well outside the area with 15 minutes remaining to put the game permanently out of reach for Shimizu, giving Oniki enough breathing room to send out Nakamura soon after.
“The players had set it up so that he could come on and they did a good job,” said Oniki. “(Nakamura’s) first touch was a shot — he’s been in good form in practice and you could sense that was going to lead to a goal.”
The 39-year-old former J. League MVP obliged the sold-out crowd of 4,798 by scoring Kawasaki’s fourth goal in the 85th minute, and rookie revelation Kaoru Mitoma made it 5-0 two minutes later with his sixth goal of the campaign.
“After I was injured, everyone around me felt down — my family, my teammates, my coaches. I was able to move past the injury quickly, but I wouldn’t have been able to get back here by myself,” said Nakamura. “I’m happy that I could experience the great atmosphere at Todoroki and how much I enjoy playing soccer again.”
In other results on Saturday, Vissel Kobe swung back late from a 3-1 deficit to earn a 3-3 draw with reigning champions Yokohama F. Marinos, with Noriaki Fujimoto’s second goal of the day coming in the 90th minute and Kyogo Furuhashi’s equalizer following shortly after.
At Sanyo Stadium Kashiwa, league-leading goalscorer Michael Olunga’s brace raised his season total to 14, but a late double by Shoma Doi gave visiting Kashima Antlers a 3-2 win over Kashiwa Reysol.
At Panasonic Stadium Suita, FC Tokyo’s Brazilian attacking trio of Diego Oliveria, Leandro and Adailton all scored in a 3-1 win over Gamba Osaka.
At Saitama Stadium, Daiki Hashioka scored the game-winner in Urawa Reds’ 2-1 defeat of Oita Trinita.
Consadole Sapporo and Nagoya Grampus fought to a scoreless draw at Sapporo Dome, while Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Vegalta Sendai drew 1-1 at Edion Stadium.