Saitama – The reigning Nadeshiko League champion Urawa Reds Ladies took the lead through Yuika Sugasawa’s penalty but failed to get their professional era off to a winning start on Saturday with a 1-1 draw against Mynavi Sendai in both teams’ first WE League preseason match.
Japan international Sugasawa put the home side ahead in the 37th minute from the penalty spot, but the visitors from Sendai equalized midway through the second half when forward Hinata Miyazawa blazed the ball in from nearly 15 meters out.
“In the second half, we improved our mentality and the players’ intentions changed,” Mynavi manager Takeo Matsuda said. “We managed to move the ball with confidence and the substitutes were able to involve themselves with the ball.
“We saw that if the players coordinate well they can play well, and we could have won, so hopefully that will help our confidence.”
Playing its first official game under new club owner Mynavi, Sendai pressured Urawa goalkeeper Sakiko Ikeda early at Saitama’s Komaba Stadium, forcing saves twice in the 8th minute through Miyazawa and then forward Haruka Hamada.
“We were relying on speed and power in the first half,” Matsuda said. “That’s part of soccer but it was hard to see more than that and I wasn’t satisfied.”
But from midway through the first half the tide began to turn, led by Reds midfielder Yuki Mizutani who saw two of her own chances blocked.
“Early on (Mynavi) earned a corner kick and giving that up so soon is something we have to reflect on,” Reds midfielder Akari Kurushima said. “Around the 15th minute we were able to calm down and it felt like we could press forward on the attack.”
Sugasawa, who scored a hat trick for Nadeshiko Japan in an April 11 friendly against Panama, got her chance to net Urawa’s first professional goal after Mynavi defender Chisa Okugawa handled Reds midfielder Hikaru Naomoto’s cross inside the penalty area. Urawa
Playing in light blue shirts manufactured by women’s streetwear brand X-girl — announced Friday as the official uniform supplier for seven of the league’s 11 clubs — Sendai fought back in the second half, with midfielder Rin Sumida striking the upper left post before Miyazawa’s blistering equalizer in the 72nd minute.
“In the first half we couldn’t find our rhythm, but at halftime, Coach Matsuda told us to play our style, and in the second half we were able to do that,” Miyazawa said.
“I think we gained a lot from today. We didn’t lose our composure after giving up the goal and that led to scoring the equalizer. It wasn’t a bad result for our first match.”
Urawa’s players appeared to flag in the closing minutes of the match, and Urawa manager Naoki Kusunose noted a difference in fitness between the six players who had participated in Nadeshiko Japan’s recent training camp and those who had remained with their club.
“To be honest, today I felt like I wasn’t in my best form,” Reds defender Moeka Minami said. “I spent a long time with the national team and didn’t have much time to adjust to our team here. We have more preseason games and I think we’ll be able to adjust to each other as those go on.”
Each WE League team will play four preseason games through mid-June before the league breaks for the Tokyo Olympics. Japan’s first professional women’s soccer league will launch its inaugural season in mid-September.
“We’ll have fewer preseason games than usual, so it’s important to approach them properly,” Minami said. “As a team we have to understand the issues that emerged today and work on them together.”
Saturday’s game saw a healthy crowd of 1,504 turn out to Komaba despite ticket sales having been limited to Urawa fan club members and a new state of emergency set to begin in Tokyo on Sunday.
“In order to make the WE League a success and bring in this many people we have to play well enough to make them want to keep coming back,” Urawa manager Naoki Kusunose said.
“It was only our first game, but we didn’t play as well as I expected. I think we could have done a little better, and there are some things we need to fix by the time the season starts.”
In other WE League preseason action on Saturday, INAC Kobe Leonessa defeated AC Nagano Parceiro Ladies 3-0 at J-Green Sakai in Osaka.
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