Wednesday, 12 August 2020

 


 Rosso Kumamoto is a relatively new team, at least under its current name. Not that the team is lacking in history; on the contrary, Kumamoto has been a hotbed of football for many years, and has a magnificent home stadium that frequently draws crowds numbering in excess of ten thousand. Between 1999 and 2004, the team adopted a French Connection. It was known as "Alouette Kumamoto", and played in uniforms that seemed to be modeled on those of Les Bleus. However, after one unsuccessful stint in the JFL, Kumamoto was relegated to the Kyushu regional league in 2003, and after another discouraging season in 2004, decided to make major changes and begin the quest for a J.League spot in earnest.

Beginning in 2005, the team established a new, independent corporation named Rosso Kumamoto. If one considers their strong corporate backing and beautiful home stadium, they should have no trouble meeting the criteria for J.League promotion once they achieve the necessary results out on the pitch. The team's first step towards succeess in that area was to hire former Kashiwa Reysol boss Tomoyoshi Ikeya as their head coach. Ikeya was not particularly successful in the J.League, but he does have good coaching and organizational abilities, and equally important, has strong contacts with J.League teams and players. Coach Ikeya brought with him veteran defender Shin Asahina, who had played under Ikeya at Cerezo Osaka and was nearing the end of his career. He also picked up two players from the Reysol youth squad who had reached "graduation" age but were not in line for promotion to the Reysol reserves. Rosso probably has more players with J.League experience than any other club in the tournament, and they bolstered the squad further with the signing of striker Daisuke Yoneyama, from Cerezo Osaka.

These investments in personnel paid off, and in just one year, the team again won promotion to the JFL -- its second stint in the nationwide amateur league. Although they failed to produce the sort of performance down on the pitch in 2006 that would gain them promotion to the J1, Rosso laid the groundwork for a solid J.League bid, during this first year, by finding financial backers and promoting hometown support. The team earned J.League Associate Member status in late 2006, and immediately set out to make the jump to the J.League by signing a number of aging but still talented former J.Leaguers, including one-time national team defender Kenichi Uemura and former FC Tokyo veteran Tetsuhiro Kina. In 2007, Rosso charged out of the gate and never looked back, clinching a top-three spot with more than a month to spare and ensuring that the name of Rosso Kumamoto would be added to the J.League ranks. . . . . errrr . . . well not exactly.

As it turned out, somebody had already secured the copyrights to the name "Rosso", and the team was forced to select another in order to register its trademark as a J.League team. This was a bit of a problem since "Rosso" had been selected by the local fans, and enjoyed extremely strong support (one Kumamoto fan club even suggested that the club should release the name of whoever owned the "Rosso" copyright, so fans could pay them a visit and "persuade" them to turn it over to the team). In the end, the club decided to add an "A" in the middle to make "Roasso" -- a nonsense word, but one which provides a gratuitous plug for the area's top tourist attraction, the Mt. Aso volcanic national park. And so it was that the J.League welcomed "Roasso Kumamoto" as a new J2 team in 2008.

Naturally, the J.League proved to be more competitive than the amateur ranks. However, Roasso performed fairly well for a newcomer, and posted a 12th-place finish in 2008, just a few points shy of mid-table. Decent fan support and a clever coaching staff, led by coach Ikeya, should provide a firm base on which to build. Past experience suggests that teams often perform better in their first professional season than they do in the second year, and even after they have settled in, it takes a few years before they can start to acquire higher-quality personnel and begin the climb up the table. Nevertheless, Roasso seems to be as well placed as any "newcomer" to make the transition.

The Scarlet Stallions slipped slightly from a 12th place finish in 2008 to 14th place in 2009, but their win-lost record was roughly comparable. The following year, though, the team's strong organizational base and its ambitious (and effective) efforts to attract a higher calibre of personnel began to pay off. One positive issue from a longer term perspective is that Roasso are not as dependent on veterans as some of the other clubs that have just entered the League. This means that they are relatively inexperience, but it also means that they have the potential to improve much more rapidly. However, the seventh-place finish in 2010 was just a blip, and Roasso's performance in subsequent seasons was a bit less impressive. 

In early 2016, Kumamoto was hit by a series of powerful earthquakes that caused tremendous property damage throughout the prefecture, killed several dozen people, and threw Roasso's season into chaos. As was the case in the past, players from Roasso were in the front lines of the relief effort, and both the J.League and Japan National Team organized charity matches to provide relief funds. In the past, teams have often used the aftereffects of an earthquake or other disaster to motivate players and public alike to intensify their efforts. In this case, however, the disruption was severe enough to knock the team off stride. Roasso stumbled to a 21st-place finish in 2018, and were saved only by the fact that J3 champions Blaublitz were not qualified for promotion. The following year, though, nothing could save them, and the Scarlet Stallions slipped into the third division.

It remains to be seen how the Kumamoto disaster will play out in the longer term, but already the players have earned the gratitude of their local population for the hard work players and staff alike are contributing to the relief effort. It may take another year or two for the team to really "rebuild" (considering that many Kumamoto residents have yet to rebuild their homes). Nevertheless, few expect Kumamoto to remain in J3 for long. A fifth-place finish in 2019 augurs well for 2020 The Stallions are odds-on favourites to return to J2 next season, and perhaps even ride to greater glory in the years to come.


Team Results for 2008-Present

Year Rank Pts W D L GF GA G.Dif
2008 12 43 10 13 19 46 72 -26
2009 14 58 16 10 25 66 82 -16
2010 7 54 14 12 10 39 43 -4
2011 11 51 13 12 13 33 44 -11
2012 14 55 15 10 17 40 48 -8
2013 19 43 10 13 19 40 70 -30
2014 13 54 13 15 14 45 53 -8
2015 13 53 13 14 15 42 45 -3
2016 16 46 12 10 20 38 53 -15
2017 21 37 9 10 23 36 59 -23
2018 21 34 9 7 26 50 79 -29
2019 (J3) 5 57 16 9 9 45 39 +6