Led by a former high-school coach and playing in a picturesque stadium surrounded by trees, Machida Zelvia are taking the J. League by storm in their debut season in Japan's first division.

The team from Tokyo's suburbs tops the table approaching the half-way point of the season, just over a decade after being in nonleague — semi-professional — soccer.

At the helm is Go Kuroda, who was hired in late 2022 after almost three decades coaching one of the top high-school sides in a country where student soccer draws big crowds.